New Digital TV Deadline Approval Near

Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate completed negotiations Monday on a deal that would mandate a transition to digital television by February 17, 2009. Included in the agreement is a $1.5 billion fund to help consumers buy the converter boxes that allow analog televisions to continue operating.

The two sides met practically half way to make the bill happen. The Senate had approved a $3 billion fund for the set top boxes and set a date of April 7, 2009 for the conversion, while the House approved a $900 million fund and a December 31, 2008 deadline.

The legislation was approved narrowly by the House, and now must be approved by the Senate before it is sent to President Bush to sign into law.

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Legislators say moving to digital service as quickly is possible is best for the economy. Some of the freed-up bandwidth will be auctioned off for wireless services, which they say could be used to pay down the national debt.

Previously, the law had stated December 31, 2006 as the date when stations had to go digital-only. However, the industry balked at the requirement, saying most would not have the capability to receive the broadcasts by that point, prompting a delay in the transition.

An estimated 73 million television sets still receive programming through over the air broadcasts, and industry estimates say it will cost about $50 to purchase the necessary box to receive digital programming.

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