Digital delay bill awaits Obama's signature

But most local network affiliates plan to make the switch on the initial Feb. 17 date if possible

The House passed legislation Wednesday pushing back the digital switch date for television broadcasters to June 12. The Senate previously passed the bill, which now awaits President Obama's signature.

Without the bill, all high-powered TV stations were required to stop broadcasting their programs in analog format on Feb. 17. Once TV stations turn off their analog broadcasts, viewers relying on over-the-air TV won't receive signals unless they buy a digital television, a converter box, or subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service.

The Oregon vote

Democrats: Blumenauer, yes; DeFazio, yes; Schrader, yes; Wu, yes.

Republicans: Walden, No.

Wednesday's vote came one week after House Republicans blocked the bill under a special fast-track procedure that required two-thirds support to pass. This time, the bill passed the House under a regular floor vote, which requires a simple majority.

Among Democrats, 241 voted for the bill, while 10 voted against it. Among Republicans, 23 voted for the bill, while 148 voted against it.

The Nielsen Co. estimates that more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals still are not ready.

While putting off the mandated analog shutoff, the bill allows stations to make the digital switch early if they notify their viewers and meet certain criteria.

Medford stations KOBI (NBC), KDRV (ABC), KMVU (FOX) and KSYS (PBS) plan to switch over as originally planned. KTVL (CBS) has yet to decide if it will make the change with the other network affiliates or delay its switch. Low-power stations, such as KFBI (Channel 48) and KDOV (Channel 44) are not required to switch from analog delivery.

House Republicans protested the delay for a number of reasons, saying a new analog shutoff date will confuse consumers, harm public-safety groups and telecom companies waiting to use the freed-up channels and create havoc for TV stations that have been preparing for the shift for years.

But Democrats on Capitol Hill and at the FCC questioned whether the government has provided enough on-the-ground support to help consumers hook up converter boxes — or whether enough call center resources have been arranged to handle what could be an avalanche of requests for help.

"The country is not prepared to undertake a nationwide transition in 12 days without unacceptably high consumer dislocation," acting FCC chairman Michael Copps said in a statement. "We've got a lot of work to do, but we now have an opportunity to do it better."

KMVU General Manager Cary Jones said his station will switch off its analog signal at noon on Feb. 16. However, the station will continue broadcasting at its present digital location, 26.1, until July or August. At that point, the station's signal will migrate to a new channel. Jones said viewers with questions can concerning the changeover may call 800-241-8123.

KTVL, operated by Freedom Communications, serves four Southern Oregon counties, plus Siskiyou County in Northern California.

"The biggest argument we saw for delaying is that there were 3,718 households on the waiting list for converter box coupons," General Manager Kingsley Kelley said. "But if you're not a heavy or regular TV watcher, you might be waiting for a special show or certain event to get a box."

Kelley said once the change is made, viewers will need to re-scan the spectrum to locate the new channel assignments.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.


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