House fails to put DTV delay on fast track

Switch could still be postponed, but it will be more difficult

NEW YORK -- After the House of Representatives' attempts to postpone the digital TV transition derailed Wednesday, it's likely that a second try at the bill already approved in the Senate is likely to happen Thursday.

Congress has been working on legislation that would postpone the DTV transition from Feb. 17 to June 12. The bill, a compromise forged by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., passed the Senate on Monday. The House postponed a vote on the measure Tuesday but was expected to adopt it sometime Wednesday.

President Barack Obama has indicated he would sign the bill delaying DTV transition until more people can be switched to digital TV and problems with the coupon program can be resolved.

The Democratic House leadership was trying to bring it up under a suspension of rules, thereby allowing it to avoid much of the Congressional bureaucracy, due to the looming Feb. 17 deadline. But that vote failed by 32 votes, 258 in favor and 168 opposed. It needed to pass by a two-thirds majority. It didn't kill the effort to postpone but it has made it harder. Republicans say that delaying the transition would only confuse viewers. The administration counters that 6 million or more TV households, especially senior citizens and Spanish-language viewers, aren't ready for the switch and would lose TV service.

Rockefeller released a statement late Wednesday saying he was disappointed, and blamed House Republicans for the delay and the Bush administration for the mess.

"The outgoing Bush administration grossly mismanaged the digital television transition and consumers are confused, households are not prepared and the coupon program for converter boxes is broken," Rockefeller said.

He added: They have made certain that far too many consumers across the country will wake up on February the 18th 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. The situation was unnecessary and avoidable."

A measure to delay the DTV transition has enjoyed wide support from the National Assn. of Broadcasters, the broadcast networks and members of the Assn. of National Advertisers, the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies and the American Advertising Federation, all ad industry trade groups. The NAB declined comment Thursday.

"We are disappointed by this action and hope the bill will be brought up again for a vote," the ad industry trade groups said in a statement late Wednesday.