DTV delay could affect 700 MHz spectrum owners

President-elect Barack Obama's decision this week to urge the Congress to delay the switch from analog signals to digital television (DTV) that had been planned for the middle of February could impact the decision-making of owners of 700 MHz spectrum, which is involved in the transition.

The head of Obama's transition team, John Podesta, sent a letter to Congress on Thursday urging them to hold off on the Feb. 17 DTV transition. Apparently, demand for the $40 coupon that Congress had been issuing to consumers to buy a digital converter box has outstripped supply. Converter boxes will allow consumers with old analog televisions, about 15 million consumers, to continue receiving television signals following the switch. The program that issues the coupons has run out of money and consumers have also had problems finding converter boxes before the coupons expired, which happened 90 days after they were issued.

If Congress does accede to Obama's wishes, the move could impact owners of 700 MHz spectrum, which was supposed to be freed up with the transition. Verizon Wireless and other wireless incumbents were the major winners in last year's 700 MHz spectrum auction by the FCC. Verizon had planned to use the new spectrum allocation to begin laying the groundwork for the deployment of Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, Verizon's chosen standard for 4G cellular technology.

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