DTV transition delay fails

Washington, D.C. —- Congressman G. K. Butterfield expressed disappointment after the House failed to approve legislation that would have provided a needed delay in the transition to digital-only television broadcasting.

“Unfortunately without a delay, millions of Americans are unprepared and going to be left in the dark next month,” Butterfield said.

While the House majority — 258 to 168 — voted in favor of the DTV Delay Act, the bill failed to garner the two-thirds vote needed for passage. Earlier this week, the bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent.

Currently, television stations across the country are scheduled to stop sending analog signals on February 17, 2009. Under the law, television stations will then only broadcast over-the-air programming in the digital spectrum. While cable and satellite subscribers will not be affected, people who use antennas to receive a over-the-air signals will need a new equipment.

To ease the transition, Congress funded a Converter Box Coupon Program that provides up to two $40 coupons to offset the purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes. Unfortunately, the fund was exhausted on January 4, 2009 and people are experiencing delays in receiving the coupons of up to eight weeks.

Butterfield said the coupon waiting list stands at more than 2.6 million requests, representing more than 1.4 million households across the country. Given eastern North Carolina’s rural nature, Butterfield said it is likely that that thousands of residents would be in jeopardy of losing television service without a deadline delay.

Nielsen Media Research estimates that about 6.5 million Americans are unprepared for the digital transition.

“People clearly need more time to learn more about what this transition will mean for them,” Butterfield said. “Even people who avoided the long waiting list, received a coupon for a converter box and then bought the converter box could still be left without a signal. Analog signals travel further than digital signals, and many people still do not realize they may still need a new digital antenna to receive the signal.”

Earlier this month, Butterfield wrote to then-FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin to urge a delay in the transition, and he said that he still hopes that the FCC will delay the transition. It was the second letter Butterfield wrote to the FCC to request a delay.