House votes to delay DTV transition, President likely to sign
By a vote of 264 - 158 at 4:12 pm ET, with official time to vote having been closed, it appears Congress has moved to extend the transition date for the DTV transition to June 12.
The final legislative hurdle came at about 3:30, when Rep. Joe Barton (R - Texas) offered a motion to recommit -- a move to have the bill sent back to the Energy and Commerce Committee. There, it would have considered an amendment compelling broadcasters to vacate the VHF/UHF spectrum anyway, if police, fire, or other public safety officials in their broadcast area had expressed plans to use the vacated spectrum for their own purposes.
That measure was swiftly defeated, though not without some very vocal opposition from Rep. Barton and colleague Rep. Greg Walden (R - Ore.). At one point, Walden and other House Republicans invoked the name of R. Gerard Salemme, who sits on the board of directors of WiMAX carrier Clearwire and who also was a member of Pres. Obama's transition team, implying that there may have been a conflict of interest that went uncontested. Salemme, it was alleged, may have advised the then-Pres.-Elect to voice his approval for a DTV transition delay, which Walden and others charged to have been the only issue for which he broke his "one-President-at-a-time" stance.
But the brunt of Republicans' opposition to the delay centered around House Democrats refusal, as symbolized by yesterday's Rules Committee vote, to allow the bill to be debated or amended under ordinary rules. This despite the fact that the one amendment Rep. Barton was willing to attach to his motion to recommit this afternoon, was one that effectively boiled down to, "Please ignore everything this legislation says."
Republicans threw everything they had at the bill, including the notion that if broadcasters are forced to maintain analog and digital signals simultaneously for the next four months, the result would be another 4 million tons of CO2 emissions pumped into the Earth's atmosphere.
In a statement issued moments after the vote was tallied, National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO David Rehr voiced his group's support for the vote, though he indicated broadcasters may still throw the switch anyway: "The legislation passed by Congress provides more time for Americans to prepare for the DTV transition and will allow more time for the government to fix the coupon program. We appreciate members of Congress for their leadership and swift action in ensuring viewers get continued access to free, over-the-air television. America's broadcasters, which have spent the past decade preparing for this historic transition, are ready to make a successful switch."
Later, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell issued this statement: "Today, a majority of the directly elected representatives of the American people, the US Congress, has clearly expressed its desire to postpone the deadline for the cessation of analog full-power television broadcasts to June 12, 2009. I look forward to joining my two colleagues, Acting Chairman Copps and Commissioner Adelstein, in quickly implementing the will of the Congress. I know we will do all that we can to minimize the inevitable disruption and confusion this transition will cause. In the meantime, let's all stay on message: If you need a converter box, get it today and hook it up today and start enjoying the benefits of digital television today."
At one point, Rep. Rick Boucher (D - Va.), leading the debate in favor of delaying the US' transition date to June 12, argued that IBM -- the company in charge of handling coupon requests -- can only handle 1.6 million coupon requests per week, maximum. That's not enough to handle an estimated 6.5 million households that may still need to change their DTV setups prior to the February 17 original hard date.
A live blog of this afternoon's proceedings, with partial transcripts of representatives' comments, follows the jump.