Lawmaker seeks 3-month delay in digital TV

WASHINGTON Thu Jan 15, 2009 8:04pm EST

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) (L) and Chairman Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) address reporters after a closed-door session with U.S. Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, director of the CIA, on Capitol Hill in Washington December 11, 2007. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) (L) and Chairman Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) address reporters after a closed-door session with U.S. Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, director of the CIA, on Capitol Hill in Washington December 11, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Democratic senator introduced legislation on Thursday to delay until June 12 the transition from analog to digital television, saying more time is needed to help consumers get ready.

The congressionally mandated shift is now set for February 17. Owners of older television sets receiving over-the-air signals must buy a converter box, replace their TV with a digital TV, or subscribe to satellite or digital cable service.

"Over 2 million Americans are waiting to receive a coupon to help them offset the cost of equipment that will help them manage the transition. Millions more don't have the proper information they need," Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia said in a statement. Rockefeller is the incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Delaying the transition by three months would give the federal government time to fill a backlog of consumer requests for $40 coupons to help defray the cost of an analog converter box. It would also give the government and the Federal Communications Commission more time to prepare for the change, Rockefeller said.

Momentum has been building for Congress to delay the digital TV deadline.

Many Democratic lawmakers fear the estimated 20 million mostly poor, elderly and rural people who would be affected are not ready. Some Republicans oppose a delay, arguing it will create even more confusion and uncertainty.

President-elect Barack Obama backs extending the deadline. Companies impacted by the conversion are split on the issue.

CTIA, a wireless trade association, contends a delay could hurt confidence in the FCC's auctions to allocate spectrum. AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications paid a collective $16 billion at an FCC auction for spectrum used by television broadcasters that is scheduled to be vacated by February 17.

Broadcasters, on the other hand, are seen as receptive to a delay since they want to avoid the ire of viewers who lose television signals.

Separately, the FCC on Thursday approved the use of temporary traditional TV broadcasts for emergency information after the switch to digital television. Under the program, households that are not prepared to receive digital signals will see a notice on their screen in English and Spanish after the switch, providing a phone number for more information.

Viewers will also receive emergency weather and public safety information for 30 days after the transition.

(Editing by Maureen Bavdek; editing by Richard Chang)

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