Due to the backing of President Barack Obama, legislation to delay the February 17 deadline to cut off full-power analog television broadcasting has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill has already been approved by the Senate, and will now go to the President to be signed into law.
A previous version of the bill passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate on January 26, but was rejected by the House.
The bill postpones the cutoff date to June 12, but allows stations to cease analog broadcasting at any time by informing the Federal Communications Commission. Over 143 stations have already halted analog broadcasting, with another 276 stations ready to shut down on February 17, even with the extension.
High power consumption is one of the reasons why these stations are switching to digital early. A five megawatt analog UHF transmitter consumes as much as $25,000 per month in electricity, a stunning figure when many stations are already laying off staff due to falling advertsing revenues.
Another reason is the lack of available riggers who are able to work on the television broadcasting towers. Many riggers have been booked years in advance, and many have been working to erect digital transmitters for the last several years to prepare for the changeover.
Even though U.S. television stations have been advertising the changes for the last several years, President Obama is concerned that there are still 6.5 million households that are still not ready for the transition.
The February 17 date was specified by the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of the United States Congress, which was enacted on October 20, 2005.
Since March 1, 2007, all new television devices that receive signals over the air have been required to include ATSC DTV tuners. These include computer based TV receivers such as found in the All-In-Wonder line, portable handheld televisions, and VCRs.
Starting on January 1, 2008, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce received requests from households for up to two $40 coupons for DTV converter boxes which would enable viewing of degraded DTV programming on analog television.
However, the Commerce Department announced on January 5, 2009, that the $1.34 billion limit on coupon funding had been reached.
The new Bill provides an additional $650 million for coupons, courtesy of the President's economic recovery plan.
Licenses for $16 billion of spectrum freed up by the switch to DTV have been purchased by AT&T and Verizon Communications. Under the Senate's plan, these would be extended by four months as compensation.
Canada, America's neighbor to the north, will face its own DTV transition hurdles on August 31, 2011.