Overcoming opposition from House Republicans, the House voted 264-158 on Wednesday to move the nationwide digital television (DTV) conversion deadline from February 17 to June 12. The House vote follows similar action in the Senate, which, last Thursday, voted unanimously for the second time in favor of the proposed June 12 deadline. After the Senate adopted their own version of DTV delay legislation late last month, Republicans succeeded last week in blocking approval of a companion House bill on a fast-track basis. Late last week, however, the Senate overwhelmingly ratified the bill that had stalled in the House, enabling House members on Wednesday to adopt that bill by a simple majority. Crafted in response to the exhaustion of DTV converter box coupon funds by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the DTV Delay Act would also permit consumers with expired coupons to reapply for new $40 coupons immediately. Although more than 3.3 million consumers currently on the NTIA waiting list still have to wait for previously issued coupons to expire, pending economic stimulus legislation in the Senate contains $650 million in additional funding for the converter box program that would enable the NTIA to begin reissuing coupons immediately. While broadcasters would have until June 12 to shut off their analog signals permanently, the bill allows broadcasters to complete the transition prior to June 12 if they are ready to do so. According to acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps, 143 broadcasters have already terminated their analog signals, and an additional 60 stations plan to do so before the original transition deadline of February 17. As President Obama promised to sign the bill as soon as it appears on his desk, a White House spokesman proclaimed that “the passage of this bipartisan legislation means that millions of Americans will have the time they need to prepare for the conversion.” Although the bill’s passage was applauded in a similar fashion by the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and members of the FCC, opponents continued to argue that the delayed transition date would confuse consumers, as ranking House Energy and Commerce Committee member Joe Barton (R-TX) observed that at least half of the consumers on the NTIA waiting list already subscribe to cable and satellite TV services that would not be affected by the DTV conversion.
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