The House of Representatives, after a fairly contentious debate, today passed the Bill extending the termination date for analog service by full-power TV stations, extending the Digital Television deadline until June 12. By that date, all full-power stations will need to complete the transition to digital so that, on June 13, there will be no more analog full-power television stations. The debate centered today on a number of issues – with Republicans arguing that the delay would cost broadcasters significant additional sums to continue to operate their analog stations, it would delay the freeing up of spectrum that will be used post-transition by first responders and for other emergency communications (as well as by new commercial digital services such as the MediaFlo service about which we have written before), and it would confuse the public and cause them to become more cynical about government deadlines. The Democratic sponsors of the extension, on the other hand, pointed to the problems with the NTIA coupon program, which currently has requests by almost two million people for over 3 million $40 coupons on a waitlist, as the money to fund the coupon program has expired. Sponsors also worried about other transition problems, including the FCC’s call center about which even Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell expressed his concerns. The concerns about the immediate transition carried the day – the DTV Delay Act passing by a vote of 264 to 158.
As the Senate had already approved the legislation passed by the House today, it’s on to the President. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation almost immediately. Then, it will be up to the FCC to figure out how to implement the requirements of the Act. The act allows television stations to convert to full digital operations before the June deadline. Many stations have been filing anticipatory notices with the FCC, informing the Commission that they will be converting, no matter what, on February 17. Whether the Commission will accept those notices, and details as to how broadcaster’s consumer education requirements will be modified, and other revisions to the transition rules are expected to be addressed by the FCC as soon as the President signs the bill. So keep watching for those details.