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Proposals Would Bring TV Cutoff Delay

Washington — President-elect Barack Obama’s sweeping $825 billion economic stimulus plan that was revealed Friday includes a $650 million provision to assist the nation’s transition to all-digital TV broadcasting.

But if the measure is approved, the planned Feb. 17 cutoff of terrestrial analog TV broadcasting would have to be delayed in order to get the necessary additional coupons and converter boxes to at-risk consumers in time to prevent a programming outage.

In related actions, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and U.S. Rep. Jay Waxman (D-Calif.), House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, each proposed legislation to postpone the analog TV cutoff until June 12, 2009.

The 115-day delay, which comes in response to a request by the incoming Obama administration, is being sought primarily by Democrats to prevent consumers, particularly the poor and elderly, from losing television signals after the scheduled cutoff.

The House bill would make changes to the Commerce Department’s $1.34 billion TV converter-box coupon program, which has a waiting list for about 2 million coupons that can’t be released at once due to Anti-Deficiency Act restrictions.

Waxman would extend the current 90-day expiration date on outstanding or newly issued coupons to Sept. 15, and holders of expired coupons would be allowed to apply for new ones. The bill also calls for the NTIA to use first-class mail or electronic distribution to get coupons out more expeditiously.

The incoming president’s economic-stimulus package also includes a $6 billion provision to offer broadband Internet access in underserved areas. That portion of the funding would be split between the Commerce Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Commerce Department’s portion of the funds would require Internet providers to provide download speeds of 45 Mbps second and upload speeds of 15 Mbps, higher than what most U.S. households receive from cable modem and DSL services. The USDA program has no speed provisions.

Also included in the plan is an almost $2 billion allocation to schools and government agencies to buy computer hardware and software.