House Passes DTV Delay Act

February 4, 2009. The House passed S 328 [LOC | WW], the "DTV Delay Act", by a vote of 264-158. See, Roll Call No. 52. The Senate passed this version on January 29, 2009. It is now ready for President Obama's signature. He will sign it.

Democrats voted 241-10. Republicans voted 23-148.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), the Chairman of the House Commerce Committee's (HCC) Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, stated in the House that "This will be a one time delay." See, floor statement.

Bill Summary. This bill amends the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005, which is codified at 47 U.S.C. 309 note, and other statutes, by replacing "February 18, 2009" with "June 13, 2009".

It provides that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) "shall extend the terms of the licenses for the recovered spectrum, including the license period and construction requirements associated with those licenses, for a 116-day period."

It also provides that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) "may issue to a household, upon request by the household, one replacement coupon for each coupon that was issued to such household and that expired without being redeemed".

HR 1, a huge spending bill that the House has passed, and the Senate is considering, provides further appropriations for coupons.

This bill also provides that "Nothing in this Act is intended to prevent a licensee of a television broadcast station from terminating the broadcasting of such station's analog television signal (and continuing to broadcast exclusively in the digital television service) prior to the date established by law under section 3002(b) of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 for termination of all licenses for full-power television stations in the analog television service (as amended by section 2 of this Act) so long as such prior termination is conducted in accordance with the Federal Communications Commission's requirements in effect on the date of enactment of this Act, including the flexible procedures established in the Matter of Third Periodic Review of the Commission's Rules and Policies Affecting the Conversion to Digital Television (FCC 07-228, MB Docket No. 07-91, released December 31, 2007)." (Parentheses in original.)

It also provides that the FCC and NTIA "shall, not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act, each adopt or revise its rules, regulations, or orders or take such other actions as may be necessary or appropriate to implement the provisions, and carry out the purposes, of this Act and the amendments made by this Act."

This bill also amends 47 U.S.C. ß 309(j)(11) by striking "2011" and inserting "2012". Section 309 pertains to FCC licenses. Subsection 309(j) authorizes the FCC to award licenses by competitive bidding. Subsection 309(j)(11) sets the termination date of this authority.

Reaction. Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), stated in a release that "As CEA has repeatedly cautioned, this date change will inject uncertainty into the market and may result in a shortage of converter boxes, because manufacturers and retailers planned box inventory based on a February 17 transition date. CEA urges Congress and the Administration to take the necessary steps to ensure converter box availability and to urge consumers to act immediately to enjoy the benefits of DTV."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House Commerce Committee (HCC), and an opponent of this bill, issued a statement regarding the bill.

He stated that "The delay bill does not remove a single consumer from the converter box coupon waiting list."

He also wrote that NTIA "numbers indicate there are more than 10 million active coupons in the hands of about five million homes. There is plenty of time to get a converter box today or in the next two weeks before Feb. 17."

He also wrote that "The entire state of Hawaii completed its switch to digital on Jan. 15, 2009, and the state did not sink into the ocean. The change went so smoothly, so much so that the FCC shut down its call center after two weeks for lack of customers."

FCC Chairman Michael Copps stated in a release that "I welcome Congressional passage of the DTV Delay Act. It has long been clear to me -- and it's even clearer since I became Acting FCC Chairman two weeks ago -- that the country is not prepared to undertake a nationwide transition in twelve days without unacceptably high consumer dislocation."

Copps wrote that "The additional four months provided by the law affords urgently-needed time for a more phased transition, including a consumer-friendly converter box coupon program, stepped-up consumer outreach and support -- particularly for vulnerable populations -- and dealing with coverage, antenna and reception issues that went too long unaddressed."

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell stated in a release that "Today, a majority of the directly elected representatives of the American people, the U.S. Congress, has clearly expressed its desire to postpone the deadline for the cessation of analog full-power television broadcasts to June 12, 2009. I look forward to joining my two colleagues, Acting Chairman Copps and Commissioner Adelstein, in quickly implementing the will of the Congress. I know we will do all that we can to minimize the inevitable disruption and confusion this transition will cause. In the meantime, letís all stay on message: if you need a converter box, get it today and hook it up today and start enjoying the benefits of digital television today."