Washington – House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), citing Republican opposition in the Senate, postponed a vote Wednesday on a bill to move the nation’s switch to digital TV to June 12 from Feb. 17.
“Late last week Senate Republicans blocked a bill to delay the transition date,” Waxman said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “I have postponed committee consideration of the DTV markup to give the committee more time to assess the implications of the Senate action.”
Waxman didn’t say how long the vote postponement would last.
Last Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), acting on behalf of Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), attempted to pass a bill delaying the transition until June 12. But unnamed Republicans prevented it from passing by unanimous consent, without a committee hearing or Senate floor debate.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) have both voiced concern about a 115-day delay as proposed by Waxman and Rockefeller, who share the Obama administration’s concern that millions of Americans have failed to prepare for a digital-only broadcast TV system environment.
The Obama White House and Capitol Hill Democrats are also troubled by the Commerce Department’s $1.34 billion digital-to-analog converter box coupon program, which has a waiting list for about 2 million $40 coupons.
Under a federal budget law, Commerce can’t send out new coupons until previously mailed coupons have reached their 90-day expiration date. About 300,000 coupons expire each week. The coupons help consumers cover the cost of converter boxes, which extend the life of old analog TV sets that rely on an antenna.
“The transition to digital television is not going well. There is not enough money for the converter box coupon program and millions of Americans could experience serious problems,” Waxman said. “Delay of the deadline is our only hope of lessening the impact on millions of consumers. Without a short, one-time extension, millions of households will lose all television reception.”
McCain has said he could accept a short delay if the legislation allowed public safety organizations to access analog TV spectrum-which they have been promise for many months-on Feb. 18.