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Bill to delay digital transition until June is expected to pass unanimously in Senate

The digital transition set to happen on February 17, 2009 has been talked about for years now. It's hard to watch TV on local stations that broadcast over-the-air without being blasted with numerous reminders that if you watch over-the-air, you will need a converter.

Despite the incessant reminders that the digital transition is set for next month, there is an astonishing number of TV viewers across the country that are not ready for the transition. Today the Nielsen Company reported that the number of homes in the U.S. not ready for the digital transition totals 6.5 million.

The glut of procrastinators not moving to prepare for the digital transition has been worrying some in Washington for months now. In October, the Government Accountability Office warned that the government wasn't ready for the last minute surge of viewers would need one of the millions of converter coupons that the government was providing.

In late December, reports started coming in that the government would run out of coupons in early January, meaning late coupon requests would go unfulfilled. This and other concerns led Obama to ask that the Digital Transition be postponed from the widely publicized February 17 date to June 12 of 2009.

It seems that Obama is going to get his wish with reports coming in that the Senate is on the verge of passing a bill that would postpone the transition until June. If the bill fails to be passed all stations in America will have to turn off analog broadcasts and move to all digital broadcasts in February.

Some Senators are drafting a few minor changes and the Senate is expected to pass the bill unanimously. However, one of the Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, said, "[the June 12 date is] an option, not a mandate [for broadcasters]."

The reason the Senate cites for not making the change to June 12 mandatory is that if broadcasters have already invested in the needed equipment for the digital transition, the cost to broadcast both digital and analog programming could be very expensive.

Hutchison said, "If the broadcaster has invested in the equipment, they can go ahead after Feb. 17 so they don't have to do both, because that could be very expensive."

Dow Jones Newswires reports that the waiting list for converter coupons from the Commerce Department is at 2.5 million, a bit less than half the number of homes that the Nielsen Company estimates are unprepared for the transition.

One of the changes being made to the bill before the Senate votes on it is a provision that will allow consumers who previously requested a coupon and then didn’t use it to reapply for a new coupon. The coupons expire 90 days after they are issued and people can’t reapply.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller said, "There are 16 million people out there where it's going to go black, their TV sets," Rockefeller said. "I don't want that to happen."

House Republicans have voiced opposition to the change in the mandated transition noting the cost to broadcaster and confusion to consumers who have been blasted with public service announcements for months.





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