Washington (DC) – The final vote which would determine whether or not the digital television delay is approved will be postponed until Wednesday morning, but last night the members of the House traveled to Washington, D.C. in spite of a major ice storm to exchange opinions regarding the switch.
Moving the transition to digital television from February 17 to June 12 could lead to many problems for companies involved, or major issues for unaware citizens. Rick Boucher of Virginia, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Technology Subcommittee said that the delay of the transition is “a highly regrettable but necessary step.”
Seven Republican colleagues would battle Boucher, the only Democrat who appeared at the floor debate.
Representative Jo Barton, Texas, ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee was heated, claiming that the bill is simply a “solution looking for a problem,” and in his opinion delaying the date was the absolute worst thing that the government could do.
Currently television broadcast channels will be federally mandated to switch from analog to digital signals by February 17 so that EM spectrum may be made available for public safety and wireless companies. Recently individuals have become concerned that consumers are not ready for the switch, and that individuals aren’t purchasing the converter boxes due to the government being slow to send out coupons. Because of concerns for consumers, the Obama administration has requested that the transition be delayed.
Barton stated that the Republicans had been working with Democrats to appropriate funding to continue the program as scheduled, and deliver coupons to those in need, and that these attempts had been suddenly pushed to the wayside as the Obama administration pushed for a delay.
“Until several weeks ago, we were working collectively [with the Democrats] to move a bill that would tweak the accounting or provide an additional $250 million … for the coupon program,” said Barton. But the “transition team decided they wanted a delay, and as far as I can tell, they didn’t consult with any of our legislative experts. They just sent up a letter … that they wanted this delay, and those discussions that we had on a bipartisan basis broke down.”
The fear of the Democratic Party is that Americans are not prepared or aware of the transition date. At this point it is estimated that 6.5 million residences are not prepared for the switch, and that many screens would go blank on the day of the switch.
The new economic stimulus package would include $650 million in funding to be utilized in the coupon program, this program would insure that every American could get at a minimum two $40 converter box vouchers.
The Democrats claim they feel bad for companies and emergency medical services which would have to wait for spectrum, which will only be freed following the switch. Democrats cited the support of both Verizon wireless and AT&T, who paid for the valuable 700 MHz wireless spectrum at auction.
The biggest concern of the Republican Party is the impact the delay could have on public safety sectors. The retort from the Democrats is that forcing so many households to go without television could potentially raise and even greater safety threat for the public.
“People rely upon over-the-air TV in order to receive vital safety information … about natural disasters that can affect that individual in the home and that information is vital to enable people to prepare,” said Boucher. “The far greater public safety concern lies in not taking this step.”
Many feel that not being educated to the switch is not an excuse, as the education tactics have been ongoing for a few years, and the switch has been in the works for over a decade. Many public awareness campaigns have been launched – including recent on-air tests which show consumers if their television signal is affected. The majority of them have proved to be successful.
Rep. Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, agreed with the former FCC chairman Kevin Martin when he stated that the “bill will only confuse customers by changing the date, cost more money, and hurt public safety.”
UPDATE: January 28, 2009 – 12:37pm CSTReuters reports the U.S. House just passed the delay bill, which almost guarantees the switch will not take place until June 12. No word on vote count has been given as of the time of this update.
UPDATE: January 28, 2009 – 2:07pm CST
Reuters has updated their article and completely reversed their original story. They are now reporting that the U.S. House failed to pass the bill, that the switch will take place on February 17.
Taken from the newly updated article:
“An effort to delay the nationwide switch to digital television signals by about four months failed in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Consumers groups have been pushing the effort to delay the transition date to June 12 from February 17, worried that 20 million mostly poor, elderly and rural households are not ready for the congressionally mandated switch. “It’s really unfortunate,” said Joel Kelsey, an analyst at Consumers Union. “Consumers are staring at a big, fat, unfunded mandate in the midst of an economic crisis.”
Note: The U.S. House is the branch of government representing the people. The U.S. Senate, on the other hand, represents the states’ interests. This is why the U.S. House is proportional to area populations (variable number of Representatives by state each representing an area), and each state only has two “at large” Senators.
Note: This article was originally published at 11:25am CST. It has been moved to 2:09pm CST so it appears at the top of the list following these updates.