The DTV Delay Act might not delay DTV for some

While the DTV Delay Act, passed unanimously in the Senate yesterday and likely to be passed on the House floor today, moves the official DTV transition date for the nation from February 17 to June 12, it specifically allows US broadcasters to throw their own switches at any time they see fit in the interim.

"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," reads the text of S. 328 released this morning to the Library of Congress. Should broadcasters within a given region vacate the analog spectrum prior to June 12, the FCC may determine whether public safety officials may be granted access to the vacated frequencies...evidently in separate determinations per region.

Should an individual have been given a government coupon toward the purchase of a digital converter box, the Act states, and that coupon has not yet been redeemed, the government may issue a replacement coupon. This instead of simply extending the validity of existing coupons, and instead of what was touted to have been an unnecessary waiting period for folks trying to re-apply for coupons.

The stated purpose of the DTV delay was to reduce confusion.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which had earlier expressed its preference that the February 17 date be kept, now supports the Delay Act because it enables broadcasters to make the switch at any time between mid-February and mid-June.

UPDATE: At least one organization, the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) [no relation], has come out against the DTV delay. In a statement this morning, NATE argues that the businesses of its member contractors who work on broadcast transmission towers, depends on the current itinerary not being messed with:

The livelihoods of small businesses nationwide and their employees depend on plans that have been made around the February 17, 2009 DTV transition. For years, leases on tower space and special broadcast operations have been scheduled around the February 2009 analog sunset. By delaying the transition further, many millions of dollars will be wasted in unnecessary additional costs while simultaneously damaging our industry and increasing the potential for job losses in an already fragile economy.

Broadcast infrastructure support companies were severely impacted when Congress enacted the first delay in 2002. Overnight, contracted work was halted and entire companies folded or merged with others, just to survive. Throughout our industry, specially trained laborers, technicians, and project managers lost their jobs. The industry feels that this conversion can be completed safely with the ample time that remains before the February 17 deadline. During these difficult economic times, an action to postpone this deadline would create more financial stress and uncertainty, while doing significant -- and avoidable -- harm to the many small businesses that provide essential supplies, materials, equipment and labor to the television broadcasters.

The transition has been carefully planned for years. Congress mandated this change and broadcasters have responded. Now is not the time to second guess the plans that have been made, plans that hardworking small businesses have staked their livelihood on. The entire industry is ready to help make this transition happen. DTV is the way, don't delay.

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