Local News

U.S. Senate approves delaying digital TV transition

Posted January 26, 2009 7:10 p.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2009 9:31 p.m. EST

— The U.S. Senate approved a four-month delay in digital TV conversion Monday, and the House is preparing comparable legislation to move the switch to June 12.

TV stations across the country were scheduled to stop sending analog signals on Feb. 17, the date federal law mandates that they broadcast solely in digital format.

The Obama administration has sought the delay because the government program to provide coupons for part of the cost of converter boxes is broke. People without cable or satellite TV need converters to continue receiving over-the-air TV signals after the conversion. The latest estimate is that more than 6.5 million households are not prepared for the switch-over despite months and months of efforts to have them get ready.

Earlier Monday, Paula Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting System, said the delay would cost public broadcasters $22 million.

The stations will face increased power charges to maintain over-the-air broadcast signals, she said. Many have leases for transmitters that were due to expire on the date of the switch-over and will have to make new arrangements, she said.

"This is such a tough situation for our stations, because they have just gone through a process where they have raised the money to go through this transition," she said.

The National Association of Broadcasters has not taken a position on extending the deadline. The TV stations do not want to suddenly alienate and lose viewers, but they also have sunk money into preparing for the Feb. 17 transition.

Kerger said that PBS is not supporting either side, but she doesn't want PBS' hardships lost among potential hardships faced by viewers.

"At the end of the day, our interest is public service, and we want to make sure that people don't go without television," she said.

There is a possibility that TV networks would be allowed to choose whether to make the switch over on Feb. 17 or delay it, in which case Kerger said it's likely that PBS would allow its individual stations to choose for themselves.

In lobbying for government help to the system, Kerger noted that much of the costs for the digital transition have been paid through fundraising, which in some cases has made less money available for programming.