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State of the DTV Transition: Senate Approves Digital Delay

1-27-09: Senate Approves Digital TV Delay

The Senate has voted to delay the transition to digital television - originally scheduled for Feb. 17 - until June 12, because some viewers are not yet ready for the switch.

Similar legislation awaits action in the House, reports The New York Times (via MediaBuyerPlanner). Some Republicans opposed a delay, arguing it would postpone public safety improvements intended by the transition.

Nearly a million and a half households are on a waiting list to receive a converter box coupon; the federal program fell short of money when demand for the coupons grew higher than expected.

1-26-09: Nielsen Data Shows Just 6% of Households Not Ready for the Switch

Just 5.7%, or 6.5 million homes, remain unprepared for the transition to all-digital TV, according to Nielsen. That's 1.3 million homes less than the number Nielsen reported at the end of December. Many of the households include people with low incomes, minorities, disabled persons and seniors who most rely on traditional, free TV for much of their information about the world.

"It is imperative that we operate at an accelerated pace to educate those who are at the greatest risk of losing their television service. These viewers rely on traditional television the most and can least afford to lose their television lifelines," said Cynthia Perkins-Roberts, a member of the Nielsen African American Advisory Council (AAAC).

Among the 56 local markets that Nielsen measures with electronic meters, the one that is least ready is Albuquerque-Santa Fe, with 12.4% of the households completely unready.

Under government-mandated action, all television stations are required to switch to digital programming by February 17, which will leave viewers without a television signal unless they purchase digital television sets, connect to cable, satellite, and alternate delivery systems or purchase a converter box.

1-23-09: Republican Rep Proposes $250 Million to Re-fund Converter Box Coupons

In response to Democratic bills to delay the DTV transition, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) countered with a bill that would authorize $250 million to resume the distribution of digital-converter-box coupons.

Bills to delay the transition have been introduced in both the House and the Senate, but have not yet made it to a vote, writes Adweek.

1-22-09: Democrats Postpone Exploration of DTV Delay

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s scheduled markup on a bill to delay the digital television transition has been postponed.

The chairman of the committee wanted to give the committee more time to process the implications of such an action, according to Mediaweek. Democrats are frustrated over the converter-box coupon program, which has left 2 million consumers on a waiting list.

1-14-09:House Republicans Oppose DTV Delay

House Republicans wrote a letter to President Elect Barack Obama saying delaying the DTV transition would hurt "first responders" and delay the public safety improvements intended by the transition.

The letter reads, in part, "The transition is freeing broadcast spectrum for firefighters, police officers and other life-savers and also providing them with $1 billion to equip themselves with the state-of-the-art communications gear that was so tragically lacking on 9/11. The transition plan is freeing additional spectrum for advanced wireless broadband services and has raised almost $20 billion in spectrum auction proceeds for taxpayers."

It was signed by ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex), and 15 other committee Republicans, and is a response to the Obama administration's request that the transition date be delayed, writes Adweek. Other groups, including the Consumers Union, have said that Americans are unprepared for the switch; Nielsen data shows that 7.8 million households will not be ready for the switch next month.

Rather than a delay, Barton and others suggest bipartisan legislation that would allow the government to issue more coupons. Because of the recession, more consumers than expected requested coupons rather than purchasing new TVs or subscribing to a pay service that would allow them to receive digital television signals.

Obama's pick for the position of Chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, is expected to favor a transition delay.

1-09-09: Obama Urges DTV Delay

President-elect Obama’s DTV transition staff found major difficulties in the digital TV transition set to take place Feb. 17. The co-chairman of the team, John Podesta, has asked Congress to consider a delay, saying government funds supporting the change are "woefully inadequate."

ABC and NBC also support a delay, while PBS frets that children in less-affluent homes that rely on free television would lose access to PBS educational shows for kids, writes The New York Times.

The news follows reports that demand for the government coupons for converter boxes that will allow old TVs to receive the new digital TV signals has been higher than expected.

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