The February 17 nationwide switch to digital television is still on-at least for now-after the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday failed to pass legislation that would have delayed the transition date to June 12.
The bill, backed by President Obama and passed Monday by the U.S. Senate, failed to get the two-thirds House majority required to pass under special rules established for the vote. The legislation is an attempt to buy more time for the 13.5 million U.S. households that use antennas to receive analog broadcast signals. An estimated 6.5 million of those homes haven't received a converter box to get digital broadcasts, and their TVs will go dark after the February switchover, consumer groups fear.
Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has also asked for a deadline extension, stating that the U.S. is ill-prepared for the switch. The government has run out of $40 vouchers that would defray the cost of the converter boxes. Each household can order up to two vouchers each, but anyone who tries to apply now at the government's dtv2009.gov Web site or via a phone number (888/DTV-2009) will be placed on a waiting list.
The U.S. House vote split mostly along party lines, with Republicans blocking the delay proposal. Some GOP lawmakers argue that a switchover delay would only worsen confusion for owners of analog TV sets. They also point out that local TV stations are ready for next month's change, and that a postponement would mean additional power and maintenance costs for broadcasters.
So what's next? The Democrats may rework the proposal that would enable it to pass the House with only a simple majority, according to Reuters. But if that bill passes, it would have to return to the Senate for final approval. For a detailed explanation of the transition to digital television, check out our PC World FAQ.