Congress Approves New June 12 DTV Date

That Feb. 17 deadline to transition to digital television? Fuggedaboudit.

The new deadline, as soon as President Barack Obama signs the bill, is now June 12.

The final piece fell in line for the Democrats Wednesday (Feb. 4), following a vigorous debate on the House floor. This time, the bill, the same one that was passed by the Senate last week, only needed a simple majority to pass. An earlier vote by the House, put up under special rules, was defeated because it required a two-thirds majority.

Even though June 12 is the new DTV deadline, TV 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 Feb. 3 letter from Acting Federal Communications Chairman Michael Copps to Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), another 60 TV stations are planning to switch before Feb. 17 and another 276 have notified the FCC that they plan to stick to the Feb. 17 date. In total, about 61 percent of TV stations, or 1,089 can make the switch without causing any interference.

For TV stations, it may be too costly to drag out the deadline, adding up to between $10,000 and $20,000 a month to power two signals. PBS said it would cost its stations $22 million to continue to run dual signals until June 12.

Behind the bill’s passage was the concern that 5.7 percent of U.S. households were, as of Jan. 17, unprepared for the DTV for the 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 that bill was rejected by Democrats.

Soon after the bill’s passage, the National Association of Broadcasters, which carefully 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.