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US to postpone analog TV death

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The US Senate is poised to pass a bill delaying the country's transition to digital TV.

The digital leap is currently scheduled for February 17, but the new bill would allow stations to continue analog broadcasting until June 12, according to high-ranking Senators chatting with Dow Jones Newswires.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, a Democrat, and the committee's ranking Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, have asked staff members to tweak the bill so that stations still have the option of flipping the digital switch in February.

"If the broadcaster has invested in the equipment, they can go ahead after Feb. 17 so they don't have to do both, because that could be very expensive," Hutchinson told Dow Jones.

Prior to his inauguration, President Barack Obama's transition team asked Congress to delay the digital transition. In early January, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) told the world it had already spent the $1.34bn set aside to provide Americans with coupons for digital converter boxes. A waiting list was established, and at last check 1.4 million households were still waiting.

Part of the US Commerce Department, the NTIA is distributing new coupons only as old coupons go unredeemed. Each coupon expires after 90 days.

According to market research house Nielsen, more than 6.5 million American households are still unable to receive digital transmissions.

The House Commerce Committee was scheduled to vote on a digital delay earlier this week. But the vote was postponed by Chairman Henry Waxman, who said we wanted to see what the Senate would do first.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill next week, and the House is expected to follow suit shortly thereafter. ®

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