DTV Switch Delay Approved By Senate

The move pushes the deadline to June 12, giving federal agencies more time to prepare the public for the move from analog to digital television broadcasting.
Postponement of the nationwide transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting was virtually assured after the U.S. Senate Monday unanimously approved delaying the switch until June 12. With President Obama and the House of Representatives already signaling their approval of the delay, the measure should be settled this week.

The switch, originally scheduled to occur on Feb. 17, will affect several million Americans who still receive television broadcasts over old analog sets, typically through the use of rabbit ear or rooftop antennas. The Neilson rating company has estimated that at least 6 million Americans won't be able to get digital broadcasts with converter boxes. Some Americans -- there are no accurate estimates of how many -- won't be able to receive analog or digital reception after the switch. To get reception, they will have to buy satellite or convert to digital cable.

"This is a big step toward ensuring that consumers can adequately prepare for the DTV transition," Sen. Amy Klobucher, D-Minn., said in an e-mail. "Delay allows federal agencies to adequately prepare." She said the current capacities of federal call centers can handle only 350,000 daily calls from consumers of the 1.5 million who are expected to call in the days immediately following the switchover. The campaign to delay the switch was spearheaded by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., and Klobucher in the Senate.

The FCC has already auctioned the old analog spectrum for nearly $20 billion, most of it going to AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Government officials decided the 700-MHz spectrum could be vacated, because most consumers had moved to cable and satellite reception and weren't using the spectrum anyway. A portion of the 700-MHz band was set aside for use by public safety agencies, but there were no serious bids for that section of the spectrum. FCC officials have said they want to schedule another auction to sell spectrum that can be used for public safety purposes.

Sen. Klobucher, who said 21% of Minnesotans still use analog broadcasts, noted that the analog spectrum serves an important public safety role. "Consumers who do not successfully make the transition," she said, "will lose access to the Emergency Alert System and Amber Alert messages."

The federal program to assist consumers in making the move from analog to digital broadcasting ran out of money recently, interfering with the flow of coupons consumers can use to purchase converters that will enable their old analog sets to receive digital broadcasts.