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DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote

A compromise-laden, "bipartisan" deal that would delay the broadcast digital TV transition from February 17 to June 12 appears set for a Senate vote next week.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) reportedly announced an amended draft of the bill late Thursday that has the support of ranking Republican Committee member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and looks to do more than just delay the switchover date.

It also adds a number of compromises, including an extention of "the FCC's auction authority to pay for the costs of the delay," and a reaffirmation of the right of broadcasters to make the digital switch before June 12.

The amended DTV delay bill also seeks to repair some much publicized shortcomings of a government-subsidized converter box coupon program. In addition to a massive waiting list of more than 2.5 million households, the program, which allows each home to request up to two $40 coupons that count towards the purchase of special digital-to-analog converter boxes, is woefully underfunded. (See Coupon Clipper Update .)

Even with Senate approval, the revised bill would still need House approval.

News that a delay could pass muster comes amid new research from The Nielsen Co. indicating that roughly 6.5 million, or 5.7 percent, of the nation's households still aren't ready for the transition. (See Not Ready for DTV.) That level of consumer unpreparedness, plus the lingering issues associated with the converter box program, all point to a DTV transition "train wreck" predicted last summer by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). (See Clueless Consumers .)

"The way I see it, right now we have a choice. We can do the DTV transition right or we can do it wrong," Sen. Rockefeller said in a statement inserted into the Congressional Record last night. "Doing it right would mean that as many as 21 million households across the country do not lose access to news, information and emergency alerts."

A delay in the transition could affect the cable industry's pocket books as well as any plans to migrate channels from analog to digital tiers.

According to some analyst assumptions, cable is positioned to sign up as much as 10 percent of the 14 million homes that still rely on over-the-air signals. (See DTV Transition Could Catalyze Cable.)

That opportunity has spurred several operators, including Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and Mediacom Communications Corp. , to launch new acquisition programs tailored specifically for this group. (See Free Cable! , Cox Bows DTV Promo, and Mediacom Boosts Outlook, Preps DTV Tilt .)

A large group of MSOs has also volunteered to halt the migration of analog channels to digital-only tiers via a "quiet period" that is currently set to run through March 1, 2009. The industry may revisit the timing of that proposal if the broadcast digital TV transition is delayed until this summer. (See Cable Proposes Digital Transition ‘Quiet Period’.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

tsat 12/5/2012 | 4:13:25 PM
re: DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote Congress is clueless on this. If people have not figured out the transition yet, what difference will a few more months make?

If they had any brains at all, TV station would be forced to start ramping down programming in Feb, slowly tapering off shows until June, when you would be left with only 10% of programming. That would be the smart way to transition. You would fill dead air with information on the switchover.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:13:25 PM
re: DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote I think what's still unclear is how many of those so-called unprepared homes are not aware that they should be doing something (getting the converter boxes and some fancy new antennas, or just signing up for a payTV service from cable, satellite et al), or if a good portion of that group is unprepared because they are simply procrastinating.
bollocks187 12/5/2012 | 4:13:23 PM
re: DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote There was no reason to force the transition - certainly there is not need for the GOVT to mandate the chaneg and the timeline.

This is an example fo the govt interfering with free market dynamics.

I am happy with my analgue service and don't see why I have to forced to pay costly sat/cable service or buy a convertor box as a consumer

Communists !

OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 4:13:21 PM
re: DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote Jeff,
I contend it has to do with poor explanations, as marketing parsed the words trying to sell their solutions, causing confusion and not simply explain the choices.

The confusion caused procrastination. Only recently have I seen someone, the broadcasters, finally step up and offer clear explanations. Even I was confused but I cashed a coupon.
tsat 12/5/2012 | 4:13:14 PM
re: DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote
Because that juicy slice of analog TV bandwidth will allow new products that will help ANY networking company grow through increased network use.

If you work in networking, you want that bandwidth freed up.

OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 4:13:13 PM
re: DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote tsat,
This was as much about selling new products/services as gaining BW.
(Yes the claimed BW is nice.)

As I contended previously that marketing of new products/services is why the confusion that was sown by markateers.

Michael Harris 12/5/2012 | 4:13:12 PM
re: DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote Broadcast TV is only a Gǣfree marketGǥ in the sense that the government gives away hugely valuable spectrum for free to media conglomerates.

DTV transition aside, if this is to be a free market, let the bidding begin for broadcast TV spectrum. Then the feds can give the money raised away to mismanaged banks and auto makers, so they can squander some more dough at our expense, LOL.

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