On Feb. 4, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve a one-time delay of the deadline for the national transition to digital broadcast television by four months, from Feb. 17, to June 12. The delay is needed to ensure the timely delivery of DTV converter box coupons to the millions of American households that are still on the waiting list. The Senate and House both approved the DTV Delay Act (S. 352), and the bill now awaits the signature of President Obama, who has voiced support for the new deadline.
“Estimates show that as many as 6.5 million homes are not prepared for the transition to digital television. That is at least 6.5 million neighbors and friends that rely on television as their primary source for important information, such as severe weather warnings, news and other public safety concerns,” stated Rep. Hoyer. “This one-time extension is necessary to ensure these households do not go dark and that citizens have adequate time to fully prepare for this transition.”
The need to postpone the deadline became clear in recent months after a late surge in requests for the $40 digital TV converter box vouchers pushed the program to its funding limit. Consumers who need coupons are now being placed on a waiting list until already-issued coupons reach their 90-day expiration date, making money available for additional coupons. As a result of the shortage, government data shows that in just the last two business days, the size of the waiting list has surged by 200,000 households nationwide to more than 2 million. In Maryland’s 5th Congressional District, the waiting list has grown by 385 to 3,985.
The DTV transition was mandated in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, requiring all over-the-air, full-power television broadcasts – which are currently provided in both analog and digital format – to convert to digital-only on February 17, 2009. As a result, viewers who rely on older analog TV sets and antennas to receive broadcasts will need to upgrade to a digital TV or install a converter box to continue watching television. Options for households with analog-only sets include: purchasing a digital-to-analog converter box; acquiring a digital television or analog television equipped with a digital tuner; or subscribing to cable, satellite, or telephone company television services.
The switch was sought to free up more spectrum for public safety communications for police, fire departments, and rescue squads. Some of the spectrum will also be auctioned to companies to enhance consumer wireless services. The consumer benefit extends to the improved picture and sound quality that digital broadcasting allows stations to provide.
Also extended by the DTV Delay bill is the program providing analog-only television households with up to two $40 coupons for the purchase of digital converter boxes. Converter boxes are available for purchase at a large number of certified national and local retailers. Citizens can apply for converter box coupons and obtain more information about the transition www.dtv2009.gov or call 1-888-DTV-2009.
Among its several provisions, the DTV Delay Act (S. 352):
· Delays the transition by 115 days and extend the license terms of the commercial and public safety entities that will use the DTV spectrum after the transition by a corresponding number of days.
· Permits consumers who never redeemed coupons to apply for replaceme