- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

House Republicans derailed a vote on postponing the digital television transition Wednesday, though the chamber likely will approve a DTV delay bill next week.

The Senate on Monday voted unanimously to push back the government-mandated switch to all-digital TV from Feb. 17 to June 12.

Sponsored by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, the Senate bill gained bipartisan support after Mr. Rockefeller worked out a compromise with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, that would allow broadcasters that are ready to shut off their analog signals before this summer.

Led by Reps. Joe L. Barton of Texas and Cliff Stearns of Florida, House Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to fast-track the bill. House Democrats needed a two-thirds majority to vote on the legislation “under suspension” — a procedure that curbs debate and bars amendments — but were a few dozen short at 258-168.

Mr. Rockefeller and other lawmakers, as well as President Obama, have been calling for the delay since a $1.3 billion federal coupon program to help people upgrade their existing TV sets ran out of money earlier this month. Wednesday’s vote drew a harsh rebuke from Mr. Rockefeller.

“While the Senate paved the way with a bipartisan bill to repair this unfortunate situation, our Republican counterparts in the House chose to stand in the way of a workable solution,” he said.

Democrats are now required to take the bill to the House Rules Committee in order to consider the measure by a simple majority vote, which is likely to happen next week because the House is not in session for the remainder of the week.

Mr. Barton and Mr. Stearns oppose the delay because they say it will confuse consumers.

“The DTV transition program is neither stuck or broke,” they wrote in a letter Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “There are problems, but they can be overcome with your help and a dollop of real bipartisanship.”

Proposals to push back the transition have also sparked criticism from former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin as well as electronics manufacturers and public safety agencies that are waiting to take control of the wireless spectrum being freed up for interoperable communications.

Government and private entities alike have spent millions over the past year alerting consumers to the federally mandated switch from analog to digital signals, which provide a better-quality picture and take up less wireless spectrum.

The transition affects only those households that rely on over-the-air, analog broadcasts. To continue receiving TV signals after the switch, affected viewers must take one of three actions: purchase an digital-to-analog converter box, subscribe to cable or satellite services, or buy a TV set that already has a digital tuner.

Households opting for a converter box, which costs between $50 and $70, have been eligible for up to two $40 vouchers under a federal coupon program. But those funds dried up earlier this month, raising concerns from the Obama administration and some lawmakers that many households could find themselves unprepared. The pending economic recovery bill includes $650 million for additional converter-box coupons.

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