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UPDATE 1-US Senate passes bill to delay digital TV switch

(Adds House expected to consider bill on Tuesday, background)

WASHINGTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Monday to delay a nationwide switch to digital TV signals, giving consumers nearly four more months to prepare.

The transition date would move to June 12 from Feb. 17 under the bill that was fueled by worries that viewers are not technically ready for the congressionally-mandated switchover.

It would also 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.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee canceled a review of the Senate bill, which is now expected to be considered by the full House of Representatives on Tuesday.

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 T.N and Verizon Communications VZ.N, 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)

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