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DTV Delay Is On the Way

The Senate last night agreed to delay the DTV transition by four months, until June 12. The House is expected to approve the legislation today. It would likely be signed by President Barack Obama, whose administration urged lawmakers to move the original Feb. 17 deadline after the federal government ran out of subsidy money for digital-to-analog converter boxes. More than 2.5 million people are on a waiting list for the $40 coupons being doled out by the program.

S-328 moves the DTV transition deadline but does not prevent stations that are ready to shut down before June 12. That flexibility was necessary to get Senate Republicans on board. The bill also extends the coupon program through July 31. It was originally supposed to end March 31. 

Companies such as Qualcomm waiting for the 700 MHz transition spectrum will have to wait another 116 days in some cases. TheStreet.com reports that Qualcomm could stand to lose tens of millions of dollars on a delay. The wireless comms provider and purveyor of MediaFLO mobile video service paid $558 million for licensees in the 700 MHz DTV transition spectrum. Qualcomm has asked Congress to impose the original Feb. 17 deadline on stations in San Francisco, Boston, Houston and Miami so it can roll out MediaFLO in those markets, according to eWeek.com.

“Any delay of the DTV transition ... will penalize Qualcomm for having acted as a responsible FCC licensee in following the law and making the investments necessary to turn on our transmitters as soon as the DTV transition ends on Feb. 17, 2009,” eWeek quoted Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs saying in letter to lawmakers dated Jan. 19.

PBS chief Paula Kerger told the press that a four-month delay would cost public broadcasters $22 million, mostly in power bills. Some also are using transmitters on leases that expire next month. The NAB issued a statement supporting the legislation, primarily because it provides the flexibility for stations to shut down before the June end date.