Digital television transition postponed four months

Staff reports

Congress recently decided to give consumers four more months to prepare for the transition from analog to digital television broadcasting.

The House voted 264-158 last week to postpone the shutdown of analog television signals to June 12, to address growing concerns that some won’t be ready by the Feb. 17 deadline Congress set three years ago.

The Senate passed the measure unanimously.

The digital transition is now underway, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s Web site dtv.gov.

Some full-power broadcast television stations may stop broadcasting Feb. 17 on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital. The remaining stations may stop broadcasting analog between March 14 and June 12.

Locally all Baton Rouge-area television stations, with the exception of WLPB Channel 27, plan to keep the original deadline.

All four of the area’s major-network affiliates – WBRZ, WAFB, WVLA and WGMB –  plan to switch to digital beginning Feb. 17.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s six stations will maintain analog signals past the date.

After the switch, older analog televisions using an antenna will not work unless equipped with a digital converter. Newer televisions with digital tuners and models connected to cable or satellite services will not be affected by the switch.

The transition is being mandated because digital signals are considered more efficient than analog ones. Ending analog broadcasts will free up space in the nation’s airwaves for commercial wireless services and emergency-response networks.

The Nielsen Co. estimates that more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on over-the-air broadcast signals still are not ready.

“The passage of this bipartisan legislation means that millions of Americans will have the time they need to prepare for the conversion,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said in a statement.

Last week’s vote came one week after House Republicans blocked the bill under a special fast-track procedure that required two-thirds support to pass. This time, the bill passed the House under a regular floor vote, which requires a simple majority.

The new administration called for the digital transition to be postponed after the Commerce Department last month hit a $1.34 billion funding limit for coupons that subsidize converter boxes for consumers. The coupon program allows consumers to request up to two $40 vouchers per household to help pay for the boxes.

FCC acting chairman Michael Copps said in a statement the country wasn’t prepared to undertake a nationwide transition without it causing unacceptably high consumer dislocation.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we now have an opportunity to do it better,” Copps said.

The National Association of Broadcasters also welcomed the delay. The group said it will provide new television spots to promote the June 12 deadline, and work with stations to coordinate additional analog shutdown tests to raise awareness.