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CEA, FCC Oppose Delaying Digital TV Transition

12 Jan, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

The heads of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have both warned against delaying the Feb. 17 digital TV transition, even if millions of American homes are still unprepared for the analog switch-off.

President-elect Barack Obama asked lawmakers Jan. 8 to consider delaying the transition, saying funding for subsidizing Americans’ purchase of digital converter boxes was inadequate, and that the government is not prepared for the problems consumers may encounter. The nonprofit Consumers Union has also urged Congress to delay the switch.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is charged with overseeing the $40 converter box coupon program, announced Jan. 5 that it had spent all of the $1.34 billion it was allocated by Congress, raising concerns that the Feb. 17 date might come too soon.

However, Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO, wrote to Obama’s presidential transition team Jan. 12 that delaying the analog shutoff would cause more confusion among consumers, anger retailers selling the converter boxes and engender “skepticism” among Americans, since the government has been advertising the date for more than a year.

“A delay will require significant unbudgeted expenditures from the public and private sectors,” Shapiro wrote. “Resources would have to be found for a new national public education campaign centered on the new date. … Broadcasters would be forced to extend leases on their analog towers.”

Instead, Shapiro suggested that Congress relax the rules on the coupon program, including doing away with the 90-day expiration date. He noted only 19 million of nearly 34 million coupons have been redeemed.

Kevin Martin, chair of the FCC, echoed those thoughts in an interview with The Associated Press, saying Congress should remove the 90-day expiration rule and provide additional funding to the NTIA. “I’m concerned … a delay has actually the potential to confuse consumers. All of our messaging has been about Feb. 17 — not just our’s — the industry’s.”

The Nielsen Co. has reported that it believes just fewer than 7% of all homes nationwide are currently unready for the digital transition and would be left with no TV signal on Feb. 17.


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