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House Republicans Reject TV Delay Bill

1/28/2009 03:45:00 PM Eastern

Washington – The House of Representatives Wednesday voted down a bill to delay the DTV transition deadline.

The bill, which had passed the Senate by unanimous vote on Monday, failed to get the required two-thirds majority vote after U.S. Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) called for the measure, which would have moved the deadline from Feb. 17 to June 12, to be denied.

The legislators called for the analog TV spectrum to be turned over as planned for use by emergency first responders and wireless services carriers that had purchased the vacated spectrum at auction.

The Republican representatives cited the problems encountered during the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy, when first responders experienced wireless communications problems due to a lack of available frequencies.

The bill is expected to be reintroduced for a simple majority vote (with full debate) by House Demoncrats next week, when many Capitol Hill experts say it will likely be approved. Wednesday's vote was conducted under special expedited rules, which did not provide time for a full debate and required a two-thirds majority to pass. Because the Senate had passed a similar comprise bill earlier in the week, House Democrats believed the measure would see little opposition. 

Prior to taking office, President Barak Obama had asked that the transition date to all-digital TV broadcasting be delayed in order to give people who had not taken steps to receive digital signals more time to prepare. The call resulted from reports that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) had run out of money for $40 coupons that people could use to purchase digital to analog TV converter boxes. As many as 2.5 million people are on a waiting list for the coupons.

Responding to the House action, Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO, said: "Congress will no doubt further deliberate the wisdom of extending the DTV transition date, and we urge full consideration of the implications for consumers of such delay.  Not only does a delay go to Americans ability to believe in a promise by government, but manufacturers and retailers of converter boxes made and bought boxes based on the February 17 date and no one knows how a delay will affect the supply of boxes.  A delay is costly, affects broadcasters and affects emergency responders.  In this time of massive unemployment, we are hearing from Americans concerned that the government may spend more money to delay the transition when almost every American is aware of and could plan for the transition.  We will support whatever Congress does, and we applaud the brave legislators who have been willing to speak on this issue and argue that a simple legislative fix would help address the existing problems."

Shapiro continued: "We pledge our full support for a successful transition to DTV even if the date is extended, and we urge Congress to take all necessary steps to ensure adequate supply of converter boxes and to educate consumers regarding the date change."

Peter Weedfald, North American operations president for General Display Technologies (GDT) maker of soon-to-debut GE-branded digital televisions, said: "As a champion towards ensuring all Americans are treated with equality and dignity through the DTV transition, I was very pleased to realize the full Senate delivered unanimous approval for a four month delay of the DTV transition and of course surprised and disappointed in the Congress’s vote of rejection. As we forge through this rough and tumble global economy even more importance and discourse must be focused on both a 100 percent equality transition across all TV homes as well as greater emphasis and determination to deliver highly efficient, energy advanced consumer electronic products designed to utilize less energy, less cost and more sensitivity to advanced light sensory.

"..Ensuring all consumers have the dignity and safety of important communications through their televisions, without disruption... must be job one on the minds and decisions of our government officials. Best way in my opinion. Keep the granite wall date in place but keep the flow of both transmissions in parallel for an extra 60 days." 

Another group opposed to a transition delay was the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), whose chairman Don Doty had called on Congress Monday to halt the deadline extension proposal.

"The livelihoods of small businesses nationwide and their employees depend on plans that have been made around the Feb. 17, 2009 DTV transition," Doty said in a letter.

"For years, leases on tower space and special broadcast operations have been scheduled around the February 2009 analog sunset. By delaying the transition further, many millions of dollars will be wasted in unnecessary additional costs while simultaneously damaging our industry and increasing the potential for job losses in an already fragile economy.

"Broadcast infrastructure support companies were severely impacted when Congress enacted the first delay in 2002. Overnight, contracted work was halted and entire companies folded or merged with others, just to survive. Throughout our industry, specially trained laborers, technicians, and project managers lost their jobs.

"The industry feels that this conversion can be completed safely with the ample time that remains before the February 17 deadline. During these difficult economic times, an action to postpone this deadline would create more financial stress and uncertainty, while doing significant – and avoidable – harm to the many small businesses that provide essential supplies, materials, equipment and labor to the television broadcasters.

"The transition has been carefully planned for years. Congress mandated this change and broadcasters have responded. Now is not the time to second guess the plans that have been made, plans that hardworking small businesses have staked their livelihood on."