It's official: DTV transition delayed to June 12

President Obama signed the DTV Delay Act into law Wednesday night, postponing the transition to digital TV until June 12 and putting wireless companies' plans to use their 700 MHZ spectrum assets on hold.

"Millions of Americans, including those in our most vulnerable communities, would have been left in the dark if the conversion had gone on as planned, and this solution is an important step forward as we work to get the nation ready for digital TV," Obama said in a prepared statement.

The legislation has a mandatory switch date, but many stations are expected to make the switch from analog signals to all-digital before June. The FCC is currently contending with requests from broadcasters to make the transition early, since they had planned for the transition to occur on its originally scheduled date of Feb. 17.

The signing capped weeks of political theater in Washington, in which the Senate unanimously approved a delay only to see the move first rejected by the House and then passed on a re-vote. Wireless companies, including Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility, paid billions of dollars for spectrum in last year's 700 MHZ spectrum auction. They planned to use the spectrum to expand their next-generation networks and deploy Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. 

It is unclear what a delay will mean for the wireless companies, though Verizon has said it plans on having some LTE deployed by the end of 2009. Qualcomm is certain to be displeased with the turn of events. The company, 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.

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.    

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