Senate approves bill to delay digital TV

WASHINGTON Thu Jan 29, 2009 11:33pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate unanimously passed another bill on Thursday to delay the national transition to digital television.

Efforts to move the transition date to June 12 from February 17 are fueled by worries an estimated 20 million mostly poor, elderly and rural households are not technically ready for the congressionally mandated switch.

President Barack Obama supports a delay in the switch.

Earlier this week, the Senate passed another bill delaying the DTV transition, but the measure failed in the House of Representatives.

The bill is essentially the same that previously passed the Senate, but with a few minor modifications from the House.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison worked out the compromise bill.

Hutchison said the delay was voluntary and television stations could go ahead if they wished with digital transmission on February 17 as scheduled and drop analog transmission.

The measure now goes back to the House.

"The House will have a second chance next week to implement this delay. I am hopeful they will pass this bill so we can send it to President Obama," Rockefeller said.

Broadcasters are moving from analog to digital signals to give public safety officials more spectrum, especially useful for emergencies, and to improve viewing quality.

Only those who watch television on older sets that receive analog signals, and do not get cable, must act to prevent their screens from going black.

About 6.5 million households are not ready for the transition, according to the latest data from Nielsen Ratings.

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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