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Digital TV delay bill on its way to the White House

Just two weeks before a switch to all-digital TV was set to take effect, the House today voted 264 to 158 to delay the move until June 12. This was the second attempt by the Democratic-controlled House to push through the measure, which the Senate easily passed last week (twice) and President Obama has said he will sign into law. Obama and congressional Democrats backed the delay to give some 2.6 million people who still do not have digital TVs time to get $40 vouchers from the feds to subsidize the $50 to $70 cost of converters that will enable them to watch digital programs.

People with digital TVs, who subscribe to digital cable service or have satellite dishes don't have to worry about getting a converter or taking any other steps when the change takes effect. All new televisions sold in the U.S. since March 1, 2007, have been required to have a DTV digital receiver built in.

Broadcasters had opposed the extension, grumbling that it would cost them $22 million to air both analog and digital programs for an extra four more months. But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave the go-ahead for stations to halt their analog transmissions 30 or more days after filing requests to do so. The FCC said that so far 143 stations have alerted the commission that they plan to scrap analog transmissions prior to the original deadline (pdf) and another 276 broadcasters plan to make the switch on February 17. Stations can, at their own discretion, continue to broadcast in analog information such as severe weather alerts so that those unable to make the changeover don't miss out.

Consumer advocates had argued that millions of Americans—most notably low-income and needy—would be left out in the cold if the deadline were not extended and would not be able to receive info aired during emergencies. Those affected are "often communities of color, people who speak a language other than English, people with disabilities, low-income families, and the elderly," the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said in a statement pushing for the extension.

©iStockphoto.com/Jon Helgason

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