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updated 17 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - People who have not gotten their TV sets ready for the changeover to digital signals could earn a four-month reprieve under a bill making its way through Congress.
The Senate voted Monday to delay until June 12 the deadline for the changeover from analog to digital television broadcasting. People still getting their pictures through old-fashioned antennas otherwise would face a Feb. 17 cutoff.
Comparable legislation is being readied in the House, and the Obama administration has called for a delay amid mounting concerns that too many Americans who rely on over-the-air broadcast signals won't be ready.
It's estimated that more than 6.5 million U.S. households — mostly poor, elderly and rural — are still not prepared for the upcoming transition.
The bill would also allow consumers with expired $40 coupons, available from the government to offset the cost of a converter box, to request new coupons. The Commerce Department ran out of coupons earlier this month, and about 2.5 million Americans are on a waiting list for them. Converter boxes generally cost between $50 and $60.
In a letter to key lawmakers earlier this month, Obama transition team co-chair John Podesta said the digital switch must be delayed largely because the government had run out of money to help consumers with the changeover.
“With coupons unavailable, support and education insufficient, and the most vulnerable Americans exposed, I urge you to consider a change to the legislatively mandated analog cutoff date,” Podesta wrote in a letter to top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate and House Commerce committees.
In 2005, Congress required that broadcasters switch from analog to digital broadcasts, which are more efficient, to free up valuable chunks of wireless spectrum. The newly available room in the airwaves can be used for commercial wireless services and for emergency-response networks.
Not everyone is happy about the proposed four-month reprieve, however. Paula Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting System, said Monday that the delay would cost public broadcasters an estimated $22 million.
The stations will face increased power charges to maintain the over-the-air broadcast signals, Kerger said. Many have leases for signals transmitters that were set to expire on the switchover date.
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Earlier this month, the National Association of Broadcasters declined to say whether it supports or opposes the four-month delay. A spokesperson for the organization said that it believes the problems with the coupon problem can be remedied without the delay.
The Consumer Electronics Association opposes the delay.
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