WASHINGTON The Senate passed a bill on Monday to delay the nationwide switch to digital TV signals, giving consumers nearly four more months to prepare.
The transition date would move to June 12 from February 17 under the bill that was fueled by worries that viewers are not technically ready for the congressionally-mandated switch-over.
It also would allow consumers with expired coupons, available from the government to offset the cost of a $40 converter box, to request new coupons. The government ran out of coupons earlier this month, and about 2.5 million Americans are on a waiting list for them.
Senate Commerce Chairman John Rockefeller said delaying the TV switch is the right thing to do because the United States is not yet ready to make the transition.
"The Senate acted responsibly to give the Obama administration time to attempt to bring order to a mismanaged process," the West Virginia Democrat said in a statement.
Many lawmakers worry that an estimated 20 million mostly poor, elderly and rural households are not ready for the switch, which requires owners of older television sets receiving over-the-air signals to buy a converter box or subscribe to cable or satellite TV.
Broadcasters are moving from analog to digital signals to give public safety officials more spectrum, especially useful for emergencies, and to improve viewing quality.
Momentum had been building for a delay since President Barack Obama backed it earlier this month.
The digital TV bill also would extend the licenses of AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications, which are waiting for the airwaves to be vacated when all TVs convert.
The companies, which paid $16 billion for the public airwaves in an auction last year, would get 116 extra days on their licenses under the proposed legislation.
CTIA, the wireless trade association, has said a delay could hurt confidence in the FCC's spectrum auctions.
(Reporting by Kim Dixon, Editing by Toni Reinhold and Carol Bishopric)