Senate votes to delay DTV transition

The U.S. Senate on Monday voted to approve a delay until June the digital TV transition, paving the way for the legislation to be passed and in likelihood putting on hold some telecom heavyweights' plans to deploy next-generation wireless technology.

President Obama had previously called for a delay in the transition, and without Congressional action, the transition is scheduled to go ahead Feb. 17. Under the bill, the transition will be delayed until June 12. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote on the measure later this week, meaning that if the House passes the bill, Obama could sign it as early as the weekend or early next week.

The transition program was stalled earlier this month 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 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.

Telecom industry giants such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility had anticipated the transition going through in February, in hopes that they would be able to use the new freed-up spectrum to begin to deploy Long Term Evolution (LTE), or 4G, technologies on their wireless networks. AT&T, whose LTE deployment plans are not as aggressive as Verizon's, had originally supported a delay, while Verizon opposed one. Verizon later reversed its position and said it would support a short delay as well. The two companies were the largest winners of the FCC's 700 MHZ spectrum auction in 2008, and had planned on being able to use the spectrum immediately following the transition.

One company that will not be happy if a delay is approved is Qualcomm. The chipmaker which also owns 700 MHz spectrum, revealed in a filing with the FCC last week that it was ready to begin transmitting its MediaFLO mobile broadcast TV service in 40 markets immediately following the transition. It appears that will be delayed as well.   

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