Obama's Transition Team Urges Delay for Digital-TV Switch

Joins Chorus of Voices Calling for Change of Date

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- President-elect Barack Obama's transition team is urging a delay in the Feb. 17 digital-TV transition.

John Podesta
John Podesta Credit: Newscom
In a letter today to senators and congressmen, John Podesta, co-chair of the transition team, cited "major difficulties" in preparations for the digital changeover and new questions about the availability of coupons for converter boxes.

"All of the above leads to a conclusion that the Feb. 17 cutoff date for analog signals should be reconsidered and extended," Mr. Podesta wrote. "With coupons unavailable, support and education insufficient, and the most vulnerable Americans exposed, I urge you to consider a change to the legislatively mandated analog cutoff date."

Funding 'woefully inadequate'
In the letter, sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Podesta said simply providing additional coupons wouldn't be sufficient.

"The funds provided to support the conversion are woefully inadequate. Coupon demand appears headed to a level that will exceed that authorized by Congress. In addition, the government's programs to assist consumers through the upheaval of the conversion are inadequately funded. There is insufficient support for the problem consumers (particularly low-income, rural and elderly Americans) will experience as a result of the analog-signal cutoff," Mr. Podesta said in the letter.

The letter also said President-elect Obama's Economic Recovery Package includes some funds to address the issues.

This comes three days after the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration reported that it had run out of money to issue $40 coupons for set-top converter boxes that allow analog sets not connected to cable or satellite to continue to work after the Feb. 17 transition.

No additional coupons
The government issues coupons that are good for 90 days. Although some of the coupons expire unused, the Department of Commerce said it can't issue additional coupons until some actually expire and is creating a waiting list for new requests.

Nielsen reported in December that 6.8% of U.S. households are totally unready for the digital transition and another 10% are partially unready, with some sets that need to be connected to cable or satellite signals or to converter boxes. Nielsen also found that 11.5% of Hispanic households are completely unready to make the switch.

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