Obama urges delay in digital TV transition

Jan 10, 2009 10:09 pm
President-elect Barack Obama is urging Congress to postpone the Feb. 17 switch from analog to digital television broadcasting, arguing that too many Americans who rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air channels won’t be ready.

In a letter to key lawmakers Thursday, Obama transition team co-chair John Podesta said the digital transition needs to be delayed largely because the Commerce Department has run out of money for coupons to subsidize digital TV converter boxes for consumers. People who don’t have cable or satellite service or a new TV with a digital tuner will need the converter boxes to keep their older analog sets working.

Obama officials are also concerned that the government is not doing enough to help Americans — particularly those in rural, poor or minority communities — prepare for and navigate the transition.

“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,” Podesta wrote in a letter to top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate and House Commerce committees.

In a statement released Thursday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, acknowledged that the transition to digital television is not going well, and that millions of Americans could experience serious problems on Feb. 17.

"We also know that many Americans will experience difficulties connecting their converter boxes, that there could soon be a shortage of boxes, and that the federal government is not prepared to answer the many questions confused consumers will have. I am reviewing the President-elect's letter and will work with his team and my colleagues to address the problems created by this poorly managed program," he said.