NEW YORK The new deadline for the nationwide transition to digital television is now June 12.
The final piece fell in line for the Democrats today following a vigorous debate on the U.S. House of Representatives floor. The bill — passed by the Senate late last week — only needed a simple majority to pass. An earlier vote by the House, put up under special rules, was defeated when it failed to get a two-thirds majority.
President Obama must sign the bill into law, but that approval is assured, as his administration has pushed to extend the deadline.
Even though June 12 is the new DTV deadline, stations can make the switch before then, freeing up the spectrum for public safety responders and telecommunications firms who have coughed up nearly $20 billion for the spectrum.
Already, 143 TV stations have made the switch, including stations in Wilmington, N.C., and Hawaii. Many more are likely to follow suit.
According to a Feb. 3 letter from acting Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Copps to Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., another 60 stations are planning to switch before Feb. 17 and 276 more have notified the FCC that they plan to stick to the Feb. 17 date. In total, about 61 percent of the nation’s TV stations — nearly 1,100 in all — can make the switch without causing any interference.
For some stations, it may be too costly to drag out the deadline, possibly adding between $10,000-20,000 a month to power both digital and analog signals. PBS said it would cost its stations $22 million to continue to run dual signals until June 12.
Prompting the bill’s passage was the concern that 5.7 percent of U.S. households were, as of Jan. 17, unprepared for the DTV transition, according to Nielsen. To make matters worse, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency responsible for managing the $40 converter box coupons, ran out of funds early in January, forcing it to put 2 million consumers on waiting lists.
Republicans offered alternative legislation to get the coupon program back on track, but Democrats rejected that bill.
Soon after the bill’s passage, the National Association of Broadcasters, which avoided the debate on the bill, put out a statement pledging its support.
“Broadcasters remain deeply committed to helping viewers get their televisions digital-ready in time,” said David Rehr, CEO of the NAB, which is prepping new TV spots and providing additional resources to promote the new deadline.