Awaits the signature of President Bush.

The U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval today (Feb. 1) to bring television into the digital age. The legislation was crafted by the Energy and Commerce Committee under the chairmanship of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.).

On a 216-214 vote, the House passed the legislation (S. 1932) as part of a larger budget "reconciliation" bill that reduced the national deficit and restructured Medicaid.

The legislation establishes Feb. 17, 2009, as the deadline for the end of analog broadcasting. This frees the spectrum for public safety and wireless broadband use, and is expected to generate at least $10 billion in auction revenues.

It authorizes the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to create a digital-to-analog converter box program to help over-the-air viewers continue to receive broadcast programming. It allocates up to $990 million for this program, which will enable households that make an affirmative request to receive by U.S. mail up to two, $40 converter-box coupons.

The NTIA may use up to $100 million of the $990 million for administrative costs. Up to $5 million of the administrative funds may be used to educate consumers about the digital television transition and the digital-to-analog converter-box program. If NTIA certifies to Congress that it needs more money to fulfill the program, the overall amount available increases to up to $1.5 billion, and the administrative amount available increases to up to $160 million.

The legislation also makes up to $1 billion available for a grant program to help public safety agencies obtain and deploy interoperable communications systems.

"The DTV legislation brings needed certainty to allow consumers, broadcasters, cable and satellite operators, manufacturers, retailers, and government to prepare for the end of the transition," said Barton on the House floor before the vote. "It includes a strong consumer education measure. And it helps ensure that all consumers have continued access to broadcast programming, regardless of whether they use analog or digital televisions, or whether they watch television signals broadcast by a local station or subscribe to pay-TV."

Barton has long argued that the bill "will mean enhanced television for millions of Americans, cutting-edge new services in the marketplace, and better communications capabilities for first responders."

The legislation now awaits the signature of President Bush.