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House Approves Analog Cutoff Bill

Washington — The Feb. 17, 2009, hard date for the completion of the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of a budget reconciliation bill.

The bill, which narrowly passed on a 216-214 vote, was previously approved by the Senate and now moves on to the president, who is expected to sign it. The House had approved the bill prior to the holidays, but a procedural requirement after the Senate approved an amended version returned the bill to the House for another vote.

A number of items pertaining to the digital television transition were included in the total budget bill along with numerous other items linked to tax and budget cuts or 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.

Sen. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said prior to the vote that “the DTV legislation in the pending bill brings needed certainty to allow consumers, broadcasters, satellite and cable operators, manufacturers, retailers and the government to prepare for the end of the transition. It includes a strong consumer education measure. It helps ensure that all consumers have continued access to broadcast programming, regardless of whether they watch analog or digital televisions or whether they watch television signals broadcast by local television stations or subscribe to cable TV.”

Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association president/CEO, applauded the House’s action saying, “the U.S. is inches away from completing the transition to DTV.”

“CEA has long supported a hard cutoff date for analog broadcasts and is pleased with the decision for the analog spectrum to be returned to the federal government by Feb. 17, 2009,” he continued. “This deadline will provide certainty to manufacturers, retailers, consumers and all others with a stake in the transition.”