House Republicans on Wednesday defeated a bill to delay the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting to June 12 – leaving an estimated 6.5 million U.S. households unprepared for the switchover.
The 258-168 vote failed to clear the two-thirds threshold needed for passage in a victory for GOP members, who warn that postponing the transition from the current Feb. 17 deadline would confuse consumers.
House Republicans say a delay also would burden wireless companies and public safety agencies waiting for the spectrum that will be freed up by the switch, and create added costs for TV stations that would have to continue broadcasting both analog and digital signals for four more months.
Democrats maintain that the Bush administration bungled efforts to ensure that consumers – particularly poor, rural and low-income Americans – will be ready for next month's analog shut-off.
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Gene Kimmelman, vice president for federal policy at the Consumers Union, which has been lobbying for a delay, said he hopes House Democrats will bring the bill up again for a regular floor vote, which would only require majority support to pass. Wednesday's vote took place under a special procedure that required two-thirds support for passage.
Nielsen estimates more than 6.5million U.S. households that rely on analog television sets to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals still are not prepared for the transition.
Still, Jonathan Collegio of the National Association of Broadcasters says the Nielsen estimate may overstate the number of viewers who aren't ready. He noted that the numbers exclude consumers who have requested coupons but not yet received them.
The Obama administration called for the transition date to be postponed after the Commerce Department this month hit a $1.34 billion funding limit for coupons to subsidize digital TV converter boxes.
The coupon program allows consumers to request up to two $40 vouchers per household to help pay for the boxes, which translate digital signals back into analog ones for older TVs.