The Senate late Thursday night agreed on a bill that would delay the transition from broadcasting analog to digital television signals by four months. It will vote on that bill next week. Meanwhile, the House this week approved the $6 billion in broadband funding offered under President Obama’s economic stimulus package, which includes another $650 million to fund the coupons aimed at offsetting the costs of buying digital converter boxes. The Senate is expected to circulate its own drafts of the stimulus bill in the next few days as the House debates the DTV delay.
Obama has supported the delay because the program offering $40 coupons to offset the costs of a converter box ran out of money and stopped issuing coupons. This leaves about 6.5 million consumers who will see their televisions go dark if the delay goes through (we are assuming all of them are going to pick up coupons). That makes the DTV coupon funding important, because until that money is allocated, the main reason driving the DTV delay cannot be addressed.
So in order for the delay to mean something, the coupon program needs funding in time to help consumers ready themselves for the new June 12 DTV transition deadline. As part of the DTV bill, the Senate version gives station owners the option to switch to digital if they no longer want to broadcast analog signals. However, it’s unclear if those stations want to risk alienating their audience — which may still be using analog televisions — by going dark too early.