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Senate OKs Capps Legislation to Ease Digital TV Transition

Legislation authored by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the Short-term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness Act (SAFER), was approved by the U.S. Senate on Thursday night by unanimous consent.

The legislation would allow for the short-term continued analog broadcast of essential information after the Feb. 18 nationwide transition to digital television including broadcasts of emergency information. The bill now moves to the House for consideration. The bill will be considered when the House reconvenes after the Thanksgiving recess the week of Dec. 8.

“I am grateful to Sen. Rockefeller for getting this common sense legislation to help ease the transition to digital television (DTV) through the Senate,” Capps said. “This is an important first step as we work to ensure that no one gets left behind in the upcoming transition.

“Recently a test transition in Wilmington, N.C., demonstrated several areas in the transition where we still need to improve. If we don’t move quickly, up to 1.5 million households could find that their TVs don’t work on Feb. 18 — and these problems will likely be concentrated among minorities and senior citizens. Since the government is requiring this change, we should also be doing everything we can to make sure it is as least disruptive as possible. It is my hope that the House will soon pass this needed legislation so we can send it to the President for his consideration.”

Under the SAFER Act, after Feb. 18 households that may not have prepared their televisions to receive digital signals will see a “slide” on their screen — in English and Spanish — informing them that the transition to digital has taken place, and providing a phone number for further information on how to arrange for their televisions to receive digital signals.

More importantly, they also will receive emergency weather and public safety information that is broadcast over digital airwaves. The SAFER Act would ensure that this information was available for 30 days after the transition to all-digital broadcasting.

On Feb. 18, full-power broadcast stations will discontinue over-the-air transmissions using analog signals and instead use exclusively digital signals. Digital television will deliver cleaner, crisper pictures.  More importantly, digital broadcasts are a more efficient use of our spectrum because they take up much less space than analog signals. This reallocation of spectrum will allow the country to move forward with one of the key recommendations of the 9-11 Commission: establishing a nationwide public safety network to respond to regional or national disasters.

Consumers who receive their TV signal through satellite or cable won’t notice the switch. The 17 million households who rely exclusively on over-the-air analog signals, however, will need to purchase a digital converter box, which will allow their television to receive digital signals. Congress earlier allotted up to $1.5 billion to provide discount coupons for the purchase of these converter boxes.

The Federal Communications Commission, broadcasters and others have been engaged in a multimillion-dollar campaign to inform consumers of the upcoming switch to digital.

Capps originally introduced the legislation in the House on Sept. 23. Rockefeller then introduced similar companion legislation in the Senate. The current legislation, S. 3663, is compromise language based on the original bills.

Click here for more information on the DTV transition.

Emily Kryder is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps.

 

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