House approves delay of digital switch

Obama has indicated he will sign the bill this week

NEW YORK -- It's official: The DTV transition will soon be moved from Feb. 17 to June 12.

After a failed attempt last week, the House of Representatives passed Wednesday afternoon a bill that would delay the transition. A similar bill had passed the Senate last week, and President Barack Obama has indicated he'll sign the bill this week.

The effort capped a movement by the Obama administration, Democrats on Capitol Hill and consumer advocates to postpone shutting off analog TV until a better plan was put into place. There were concerns about whether enough work had been done among some parts of the population, along with millions of Americans on a waiting list for a reimbursement program that ran out of money.

Last week, the Senate unanimously approved a bill drafted by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to address the issues. But House Republicans had concerns about the bill and it failed to pass. Rockefeller then pushed through a revised bill late last week; the House took it up and passed it Wednesday afternoon.

Broadcasters are not required to wait to switch off the analog signal. Acting FCC Chairman Michael J. Copps told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday that 143 stations nationwide have already shut off their analog signal, with 60 more planning to do so before the previous deadline and 276 stations planning to do so on or about Feb. 17. Most of the other 700 stations could do it without too much trouble, Copps wrote.

"I believe that a short delay in the transition date will give us an opportunity -- with adequate additional resources -- to significantly improve the outcome for consumers," Copps wrote to the committee Wednesday morning before the vote.

The National Association of Broadcasters and News Corp. were among those immediately supporting the action.

"The legislation passed by Congress provides more time for Americans to prepare for the DTV transition and will allow more time for the government to fix the coupon program," NAB president and CEO David Rehr said.

A News Corp. statement said, "We will work diligently toward ensuring that the new transition date of June 12, 2009, is a successful one."

The broadcast TV industry has spent millions in public service announcements leading up to the Feb. 17 transition, and will now have to spend an unspecified amount more for the June date.