Congress now expected to approve a DTV switchover delay this week

  • Washington (DC) - On Wednesday, the United States House of Representatives should complete congressional action on a bill which would delay the switch from analog to digital television from February 17 to June 12. It would seem that this matter is constantly discussed as of late, and the more it is talked about the more confusing it becomes.

    To make the matter clear, the Senate has recently approved its DTV Delay Act in a unanimous vote. After passage, the bill was then sent over to the U.S. House for their approval, where it has already failed one vote - though it looks now like it might pass later this week.

    The four-month delay was proposed by the Obama administration, therefore any question about whether or not it will receive a Presidential signature is moot - such an act by the President is a guarantee.

    It is now expected the DTV switch will be delayed until June, as the next House vote merely requires a simple majority - and Democrats currently control the House by a comfortable margin. The previous House vote failed because it required a two-thirds majority. The vote count, 258-168, was well above the majority required for passage.

    Many argue that delaying the DTV switch is a horrible idea. It is the opinion of many that regardless of the transition time, individuals are not going to be prepared and it would be better to "rip the bandage off now," as it were.

    The Delay Bill would move the date to June 12, but it also gives broadcasters the opportunity to switch to digital unilaterally at their decision. It was this issue, combined with the fact that a delay isn't going to force individuals to instantly go out and get the needed converter box, which killed the bill last week.

    Another major issue concerning the delay of the bill is that companies like Verizon and AT&T which won auctions for the wireless spectrum could potentially seek and receive compensation for not getting the property they were set to acquire that day. The Delay bill does nothing to address this issue and it is unclear at present if there are any monetary damages which could be awarded should the February 17 date pass by.

    Television stations stand to potentially lose $10,000 a month if the delay goes through as they had previously been required to make sure they were ready for the switchover by February 17, and that means much of their new equipment may not be used for four months.

    The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information administration spent $1.34 billion which had been allocated to help consumers and businesses make the transition to digital broadcast television. This included the cost of a $40 coupon for converter boxes, two available per household. At this point in time only half of the money allocated to the DTV converter coupon program has been spent. Meaning that many individuals didn't redeem their coupons, or they expired.

    The Delay bill would shuffle $650 million more into the program. We'll have to wait until Wednesday to see what the House of Representatives decides.