House Rejects DTV-Switch Delay

By Ken Kerschbaumer and Carolyn Braff

Although the turnoff of analog TV signals next month appeared headed for a delay to June 12 after the Senate on Tuesday approved a compromise bill (S.328) that would give the government four more months to smooth the transition, Wednesday sent the measure back to square one. The House of Representatives did not get the two-thirds majority needed to expedite passage of the bill.

The 258-168 vote in favor of the delay won majority support but took place on suspension, which is an expedited vote with limited debate and no amendments and requires a majority for approval. Unless House Democrats bring the bill up for a regular floor vote next week, the nation’s TV stations must complete the digital transition by the original Feb. 17 deadline. A regular vote would require only majority support to pass, but with less than three weeks remaining before the scheduled DTV transition, the goal was to get the bill passed as quickly as possible.

The vote was a marked victory for the GOP, since the Obama administration has criticized the government funding for the switch as inadequate. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), ranking member on the House Commerce Committee, has a bill that would pump more money into the box-coupon program without moving the date, Broadcasting & Cable reports.

“In my opinion, we could do nothing worse than to delay this transition date,” said Barton. “The bill is a solution looking for a problem that exists mostly in the mind of the Obama administration.”

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said his vote against the DTV bill was primarily about public safety: “Every day that goes by without this transition is another day that our firefighters, policemen, and EMTs cannot effectively communicate.”

The House debated the bill Tuesday night, at which time Republican leadership issued a policy statement saying, “House Republicans oppose any further delay in the deadline.”

After Wednesday’s vote, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who had proposed the compromise bill, seemed to concede that the date will now not be changing.

“I am deeply disappointed that Republicans blocked the digital-television transition-delay bill today in the House,” he said in a statement. “Instead of delaying the transition to ensure that the most vulnerable among us have the ability to prepare for the transition, they have made certain that far too many consumers across the country will wake up on Feb. 18 and find that their television sets have gone dark and access to news, information, and vital emergency alerts will be unavailable. It did not have to be this way; this situation was unnecessary and avoidable.”

The bill, drafted by Rockefeller and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), called for funding of additional $40 converter-box coupons to be made available and funded by future FCC spectrum auctions. The initial $1.3 billion worth of coupons paid for by the government were claimed by the end of 2008, but, more important, many of them expired before the consumers bought the converter boxes; the coupons had to be used within 90 days of receipt.

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