Washington — The U.S. House of Representatives approved a compromise agreement, 212-206, to complete the digital television transition by Feb. 17, 2009.
The compromise, which is part of a larger budget package, is scheduled to go before the Senate this afternoon, but the outcome there is uncertain.
The package approved in the House vote also would allocate up to $1.5 billion to help consumers that rely on over-the-air broadcasts purchase digital converter boxes to view the new signals on their analog television equipment.
The subsidy, which is set up to minimize participation by consumers who don’t need a converter box, will require consumers to make a special request to receive up to two $40 converter box coupons.
Under the compromise, $990 million would go to the converter box subsidy program, but that sum could be increased by an additional $510 million if the Commerce Department determines the initial amount is insufficient.
Up to $100 million of the $990 million converter subsidy is earmarked for administrative costs, and $5 million of those funds is to be used for consumer education programs on the digital television transition and the converter box subsidy program.
According to some estimates, fewer than 15 percent of U.S. households rely exclusively on over-the-air broadcasts. The remaining homes get local TV services from cable, satellite or telecommunications TV services.
The Jan. 15, 2009, compromise date will avoid cutting off analog TV services prior to the Super Bowl.
“The DTV legislation brings needed certainty to allow consumers, broadcasters, cable and satellite operators, manufacturers, retailers, and government to prepare for the end of the transition,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“We will have three years to prepare for the transition,” Barton’s statement continued. “That is more than enough time for manufacturers and retailers to move low-cost digital televisions and converter boxes into the market, for the FCC to complete the channel allocation process, for broadcasters to finalize their digital facilities and for government and industry to prepare consumers for the transition.”
Congress is prodding broadcasters to give up their analog broadcast spectrum so they can auction some of it off to commercial wireless services and raise funds to help reduce the federal deficit.
Prior to the compromise arrived at over the weekend, the Senate had approved a $3 billion for a converter box fund and set and April 7, 2009, transition date. The House originally asked for a $990 million converter box fund and a Dec. 31, 2008, transition date.