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The effort to delay the switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting was torpedoed -- at least temporarily -- Wednesday by House Republicans who marshaled opposition to legislation to postpone the switch from Feb. 17 to June. The delay was supported by President Obama and by a unanimous vote in the Senate earlier this week.
The transition to DTV has been planned for many months, but the effort has been plagued by a series of problems. Many consumers who receive over-the-air broadcasts complain they haven't been able to get coupons for the converter boxes that would enable them to receive digital signals on their old TVs. Many $40 coupons issued by the federal government expired before consumers used them and at least a million citizens with analog sets are still waiting for coupons and converters.
Many Republicans have opposed delaying the transition date and Rep. Joe Barton, minority chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led the drive against delay in the House. The switch actually received a majority of votes in its favor, but it didn't garner the two-thirds majority it needed.
"In my opinion, we could do nothing worse than to delay this transition date," said Barton, according to media reports. "The bill is a solution looking for a problem that exists mostly in the mind of the Obama administration."
The measure has been the subject of partisan bickering for weeks. Former Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, had urged that the Feb. 17 date be kept, but Democrats complained the FCC hadn't made proper plans for the switchover. Sen. Amy Klobucher, who said 21% of her Minnesota constituents must switch to digital, said: "Unfortunately, after guarantees that the Bush Administration would adequately prepare and protect consumers, only recently did they reveal that funding has run out -- just weeks before the plug is pulled on analog TV."
The debate over the switch is a distraction as official Washington grapples with a severe economic meltdown that continues to grow.
The House could revisit the issue next week and pass amendments that would make the switch more palpable to Republican members. Then it would have to go back to the Senate, where Sen. Klobucher and Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia have spearheaded the effort to delay the switch.
In addition to a shortage of converter coupons, staffing for help centers hasn't been adequately funded so consumers seeking help may not be able to get it. In some test regions -- in Hawaii and Wilmington, N.C., in particular -- some consumers have complained they can't get any broadcast reception at all, particularly in rural areas. The confusion has caused some consumers to purchase cable and satellite reception, but that isn't an option for many low-income and elderly consumers.