DTV Delay Act

This week, by a vote of 264 to 158, the House of Representatives approved the DTV Delay Act to postpone the transition to digital television until June 12, 2009. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on its web site states that “This delay will grant millions of households the chance to be prepared for the transition and retain access to an important information resource.” The Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D. Cal.), in a statement in support of the bill, suggested that the delay is necessary because of lack of preparation in the Bush Administration:

Unfortunately, we are not yet prepared for this transition. The prior Administration assured the Committee on Energy and Commerce repeatedly that the transition effort was on track. But on December 24, 2008, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) notified Congress that the converter box coupon program would run out of funding the first week of January and that it would need an additional $250 to $350 million to meet projected demand.

As part of the effort to delay conversion, Rep. Waxman sent a letter to his colleagues with an updated list of households on the waiting list, organized by congressional district noting that there were over 2 million households on the DTV Coupon Waiting List.

The conversion project dates back many years and culminated with the enactment of the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 on February 8, 2006 when it was signed into law by President Bush. The multi-year effort was aimed at driving broadcasters from some of the choicest frequencies in the airwaves to make room for advanced wireless broadband services. The Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 was part of a much larger bill dealing with the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

The issue of funding the cash-strapped converter box coupon program, which provides up to two $40 coupons per household for DTV converter boxes (which cost anywhere between $40-$60), is not addressed in the DTV Delay Act. However it has become a point of controversy in the pending economic stimulus bill. Title III of the stimulus package dealing with the Department of Commerce provides for $650 million to be available until September 30, 2009 for the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Program.

As the DTV Delay Act awaits President Obama’s signature, a new feature on the White House web page asks for public input. According to the White House, all non-emergency legislation will be published to the Web site for five days, allowing the public to review and comment before the president signs it. The page, DTV Delay Act of 2009 on, includes the full text of the bill and offers a form for users to send in their thoughts.