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Obama, Consumers Union Urge Digital TV Delay

8 Jan, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

President-elect Barack Obama asked Congress Jan. 8 to delay the Feb. 17 digital TV transition, suggesting in a letter to lawmakers that the federal government is unprepared for the problems consumers may experience when analog signals are shut off.

The letter, signed by John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team. also pointed to the Jan. 5 announcement from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that it had unexpectedly run out of money to subsidize consumers’ purchase of digital converter boxes. Calling the $1.34 billion Congress allocated to the NTIA “woefully inadequate,” the letter urges “a change to the legislatively-mandated analog cutoff date.”

“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,” the letter read, pointing to more than a million people on the waiting list for the $40 converter box coupons. The letter adds that an economic recovery plan Congress hopes to have ready for Obama by mid-February “contains resources to address this issue.”

On Jan. 7 the nonprofit Consumers Union also asked Congress to delay the digital transition.

“We believe Congress should consider delaying the transition until a plan is in place to minimize the number of consumers who will lose TV signals, particularly by fixing the flaws in the federal coupon program created to offset the cost of this transition,” the letter read. “The federal government will receive over $19 billion as a result of the DTV spectrum auction. Millions of consumers could now be forced to spend their own money to navigate this federally mandated transition. This economic climate is not the right time to ask consumers to dig deeper into their own pockets to pay for the miscalculation by the federal government.”

The Nielsen Co. reported that it believes just under 7% of all homes nationwide are currently unready for the digital transition.

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