This was a vote on whether to delay the date to convert to all-digital television from February 17, 2009 to June 15, 2009. The change to all-digital television broadcasting had been recommended by the September 11 Commission.
During the debate on whether the extension should be implemented, Rep. Boucher (D-VA), the chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, cited a very recent Nielsen study that found more than six million households, which had only analog television reception, were “totally unprepared for the transition.” Boucher argued that, if this many households lost television service, it would be a greater threat to public safety than delaying the use of the spectrum by first responders. He also pointed to the support the delay had received from major organizations of first responders, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Association of Public Safety Communication Officers. Boucher also pointed to the support for the extension from Consumers Union, the FCC Chairman, and the large telecommunications companies that had spent billions of dollars purchasing portions of the analog spectrum that was not to be used by first responders.
Rep. Barton (R-TX), led the opposition to the legislation that would extend the conversion date. He first argued against the delay because it had been known for more than two years. Rep Stearns (R-FL), supporting Rep Barton, argued that changing a date that had been in place for so long would generate “confusion and distrust of the government.” Barton and other Republicans further argued that the delay would impose a financial hardship on individual television stations that would have to pay additional costs, including energy costs. This point was echoed by Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), who said this burden would be “anti-stimulus” in a time of economic decline.
There was also disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about whether those who had not yet made the switch to digital could acquire the necessary conversion boxes by the February 17 date. The Republicans argued that they could easily purchase the boxes and send their receipts to the government for reimbursement. Rep Stupok (D-MI), who represents a rural district, countered by saying that the boxes were not always readily available outside of major cities.
The vote on passage of the legislation was 264 ayes to158 nays. Two hundred and forty-one Democrats and 23 Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and forty-eight Republicans and ten Democrats voted “nay”. The bill had previously passed the Senate, and, with House passage, was sent to the president for his signature, which extended the conversion date to June 15 2009.