Senate considers delaying DTV transition until June

On the theory that some two million eligible customers have yet to receive their $40 coupons toward the purchase of an over-the-air DTV signal converter, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D - W.V.) introduced a bill giving them more time.

If approved, Sen. Rockefeller's bill would extend the transition date by 90 days to June 12. Rockefeller's sentiments appear to be echoed by key members of the President-Elect's transition team, along with Federal Communications Commission members who told a crowd last week at CES 2009 in Las Vegas that they saw a lack of leadership all last year in driving the transition forward.

But Rockefeller is also arguing that the dead of winter is the worst time to be making this transition, for fear that broadcaster's transmitter crews would be unable to make necessary changes to their equipment. This despite the fact that broadcasters say they are already ready, and most US stations are already broadcasting in DTV -- the real switch being thrown would be the one that turns off the analog signal. Already, broadcasters are being permitted to leave those signals running after February 17, if only to show images informing viewers that regular analog broadcasts have ceased.

"The Federal Communications Commission expects to receive almost 1.5 million calls on the days immediately following the transition but at current capacity their call center will be able to process only 350,000 of those calls each day," reads a statement from Sen. Rockefeller's office today. The statement goes on to cite Comm. Robert McDowell, who at CES called the government's efforts to date to educate citizens "inadequate."

Only last week, Sen. Bernard Sanders (I - Vt.) introduced a bill that would make more coupon money available to citizens, and that would set up government-run toll-free hotlines above and beyond what the FCC is planning. And the House introduced legislation, also last week, to extend the federal coupon expiration date past March 7.

Opposition to Rockefeller's plan comes from Rep. Joe Barton (R - Texas), who earlier joined with fellow congressmen in writing Pres.-Elect Obama, invoking 9/11 in their argument that any further delay in the DTV transition would impair the redeployment of VHF and UHF spectrum for use by first responders.

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