Republicans Block DTV Transition Delay

Although the DTV ball is currently in the hands of Democrats, Republicans stand poised in defense, ready to block the proposed transition delay.

And that's what Senate Republicans did last week, blocking a bill that would have delayed next month's transition from analog to digital TV reception nationwide. The bill, submitted to Congress yesterday by the Democrats, called for rescheduling the analog switch-off to June 12 from its original February 17 date. However, with the bill now blocked by the Senate Republicans, the Democrats vowed revenge, promising to bring the bill back for a vote next week.

The entire voucher program has become one huge mess. Although Congress passed a $1.34 billion spending limit on the DTV converter coupons, the program quickly ran dry, thus pushing further coupon requests onto a waiting list. The FCC called on Congress to churn out additional funding for the program, while President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic Party suggested that the transition date of February 17 be pushed back to June 12. They too also requested that Congress grant more funds, however many Republicans and other commercial properties reject the idea of a postponement.

Now the big question is whether consumers will receive coupons in time for the February 17 switchover if Congress actually grants more money to the program. Currently the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a branch of the Commerce Department in charge of the program, is sending out new coupons as older ones reach their 90-day expiration dates. As of Wednesday, more than 2.1 million consumers remain on the waiting list, with the switchover almost one month away.

Are consumers ready for the digital transformation? Certainly not. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller, D-W.V., who actually authored the bill to delay the DTV transition date, said that the government risks leaving those who are most reliant on over-the-air broadcast television for their information literally in the dark, hence the proposed date of June 12. Still, many believe that pushing the date back would only confuse consumers not to mention throw a wrench into the plans of broadcasters who spent years gearing up for the switch.

If all goes according to plan, the Democrats will bring Rockefeller's bill back for a vote again in the upcoming week.

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