Senate Backs Digital Delay Bill
The bill still requires approval from Congress, which could tackle the matter as early as today, according to reports.
Despite an earlier snag, a bill set to delay the transition appeared destined for Senate approval when Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) circulated an amended "bipartisan" version of the so-called "DTV Delay Act" last week that had the support of ranking Republican Committee member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). (See DTV Delay Bill Heads for Senate Vote .)
In addition to pushing the transition date out another four months, the Senate-approved deal: means the cost of the delay will be underwritten by proceeds from future Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spectrum auctions; allows broadcasters to make the switch to digital before June 12; permits the FCC to award vacant spectrum space to public safety officials; and aims to fix some problems with the underfunded, government-subsidized converter box program.
Those against the delay have argued that postponing the digital transition would only cause further consumer confusion, as millions of dollars have been spent on commercials and other public announcements touting the February 17 transition date. Cable, for example, has earmarked more than $200 million toward a TV campaign that spreads the message about the transition. (See NCTA Vids Spotlight DTV Transition.)
But it appears that a significant group of consumers that still rely on over-the-air TV signals aren't ready for the switch, because they remain in the dark about what to do or have put off obtaining and installing the necessary converter boxes and antennas. The Nielsen Co. reported last week that about 6.5 million, or 5.7 percent, of U.S. households still aren't ready for the transition. (See Not Ready for DTV.)
Although a dual must-carry mandate ensures that cable subscribers will continue to receive broadcast channels in analog format after the transition, a delay in the transition date could slow MSO plans to move some analog channels to digital tiers and make headroom for more high-definition television channels, video-on-demand (VoD) content, and other advanced digital services. (See Comcast Seeds Digital Shift With Free Boxes.)
To help eliminate confusion between cable's digital transition and the broadcast TV transition, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and a large group of cable MSOs have volunteered to stop moving analog channels to digital-only tiers until March 1, 2009. However, a decision to extend that "quiet period" has been tabled until after a firm decision is made to delay the broadcast TV transition date.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News