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Bush Signs Analog Cutoff Bill

Washington — President George W. Bush signed a budget package on Wednesday that included establishment of a Feb. 17, 2009, hard date to transition the nation’s television broadcasts to 100 percent digital transmissions.

The date will require U.S broadcasters to end transmissions of analog television signals.

Gary Shapiro, CEA president/CEO, praised the action, saying: “CEA has long supported a hard cutoff date for analog broadcasts. This deadline will provide certainty to manufacturers, retailers, consumers and all others with a stake in the transition.”

He continued: “CEA forecasts that U.S. consumers will purchase more than 18 million DTV sets and displays this year, marking a 50 percent increase over 2005 sales … With the combination of the hard cutoff date, continuing strong sales of DTV products, and increasing array of quality high-definition programming and the coming advent of new prerecorded HD content, we are well on our way toward making the U.S. a DTV nation.”

The bill, which narrowly passed a 216-214 vote in the House of Representatives Feb. 1, was approved by the Senate prior to the holidays.

A number of items pertaining to the digital television transition were included in the total budget bill, which contained a host of tax and budget cuts and revenue increases.

Most House Republicans backed the budget package because it was designed to save $38.8 billion over the next five fiscal years.

Many House Democrats fought the measure on various grounds, including its alleged failure to adequately reduce the federal deficit while cutting taxes and reducing funds for some popular federal programs, such as health care and student loans.

The digital transition portion of the measure will raise an expected $10 billion by auctioning off a portion of the returned analog broadcast TV spectrum to wireless service providers. It also reserves a portion of the spectrum for first-responders in emergency services.

A consumer education program was included to alert consumers about the approaching switch over to digital TV broadcasting and instruct them on how to acquire digital-to-analog converter boxes to continue receiving free over-the-air broadcasts on their current analog television sets.

The package included spending between $990 million to $1.5 billion to subsidize the cost of digital-to-analog converter boxes required by mostly lower-income citizens who don’t subscribe to cable of satellite TV services.

Consumers who continue to receive TV signals over-the-air will be eligible for up to two $40 coupons for the purchase of a set-top converter box. The subsidy program will be administered by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration agency.