President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law the DTV Delay Act, a bill postponing the date on which television broadcasters will have to transition from analog signals to digital signals.
The legislation moves the transition deadline from February 17 to June 12. Democrats, including the administration, supported the measure out of concern for the millions of people who are not prepared for the switchover.
"During these challenging economic times, the needs of American consumers are a top priority of my administration," Obama said in a statement. "Millions of Americans, including those in our most vulnerable communities, would have been left in the dark if the conversion had gone on as planned, and this solution is an important step forward as we work to get the nation ready for digital TV."
The law, however, allows broadcasters to proceed with the changeover if they are ready, and more than a third of the nation's television stations will make the switch next week as planned. The vacated analog spectrum will be allocated to public safety services.
"Next week is not going to be pretty," Michael Copps, the acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said at an event in Washington on Wednesday. "There is going to be consumer dislocation and confusion next week."
He said the only thing that would have been worse than the confusion he anticipates next week would have been the fallout had the DTV Delay Act not been passed.
More than 3.7 million people are still on a waiting list to receive coupons for digital converter boxes from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, according to NTIA data from February 4. The NTIA ran through the $1.3 billion allocated for the coupons weeks ago, though a Senate panel last month approved an additional $650 million for the coupon program as part of the so-called stimulus package making its way through Congress.
"Our next few days are pretty much spoken for at the FCC," Copps said. "That's not how I would have hoped to be spending my time as acting chairman."