House votes to delay DTV transition

The House voted 264-158 Wednesday afternoon to postpone the digital TV (DTV) transition from Feb. 17 to June 12, and the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Obama shortly. 

Wireless companies, notably Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility, had paid billions of dollars for spectrum in the 700 MHz band last year in hopes of using the spectrum to build out their networks for Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. AT&T, whose LTE deployment plans are not as aggressive as Verizon's, had originally supported a delay, while Verizon opposed it. Verizon later reversed its position and said it would support a short delay as well.

It is unclear what a delay will mean for the wireless companies, though Verizon has said it plans on having some form of LTE deployments by the end of 2009.  Qualcomm is certain to be displeased with the turn of events. The chipmaker which also owns 700 MHz spectrum, revealed in a filing with the FCC in January that it was ready to begin transmitting its MediaFLO mobile broadcast TV service in 40 markets immediately following the transition.     

A compromise had been reached earlier in the Senate, giving TV stations the option to make the digital switch before June 12, and thus freeing up the spectrum, as well as another $650 million for digital converter box coupons.

Last week, the House failed to pass the bill by a 258-168 vote--the bill had previously passed the Senate unanimously. House Democrats had tried to fast-track the bill, and because of the procedural measures taken, needed a two-third majority to pass the bill. They failed to do so when they could not garner enough Republican support. This new bill needed a simple majority to pass.

The transition program was stalled in January when demand for the $40 coupon that Congress had been issuing to consumers to buy a digital converter box had outstripped supply. Converter boxes will allow consumers with old analog televisions to continue receiving television signals following the switch. The Nielson Co. estimates that 6.5 million households are still unprepared for the switch. President Obama had called for a delay and Democrats on Capitol Hill had supported the move.

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