Congress votes to delay analog TV shutdown

Posted February 4, 2009 3:18 p.m. EST
Updated February 4, 2009 6:11 p.m. EST

— Congress has delayed the analog TV shutdown by four months.

The House on Wednesday voted in favor of a bill that gives consumers until June 12 to prepare for the transition from analog to digital television broadcasts.

The bill now heads to President Obama for his signature. A spokesman has said he will sign it.

In a 258-168 vote last week, House Republicans defeated the proposal to delay the analog TV cutoff, which is currently mandated to be Feb. 17. Even though a majority voted for the bill, it happened under a special fast-track procedure that requires two-thirds support to pass.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill earlier last week.

The Obama administration and many Democrats on Capitol Hill argue that a delay is needed to ensure that millions of consumers, particularly poor and elderly Americans, do not lose TV reception when broadcasters shut off their analog transmitters.

Republican lawmakers have raised concerns that a delay would confuse consumers, burden wireless companies and public safety agencies waiting for the slices of the airwaves that will be vacated and cost TV stations millions of dollars to keep broadcasting both analog and digital signals for four more months.

The Obama administration called for the transition to be postponed after the Commerce Department hit a $1.34 billion funding limit for the $40 coupons that subsidize digital TV converter boxes for consumers. The boxes translate digital signals back into analog ones for older TVs to process.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the arm of the Commerce Department administering the program, is now sending out new coupons only as older, unredeemed ones reach a 90-day expiration date and the money allotted for them goes back into the account.