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Obama Reiterates Call to Delay DTV Transition

Kim Hart

President-elect Barack Obama's transition team sent a second letter to Capitol Hill today to re-enforce the push to postpone the Feb. 17 date of the nation's digital transition.

Last week, top aid John Podesta asked lawmakers to consider a delay to allow time to fix the backlogged converter box coupon program and provide more time and money to help consumers prepare for the shut-off of analog signals.

"Since then, the situation has only gotten worse," Podesta wrote in the letter delivered to Capitol Hill this morning and obtained by The Washington Post. "Lack of appropriate planning has left many consumers vulnerable."

Yesterday Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced a bill to delay the transition until June 12.

Rockefeller said the delay is needed to reduce the public safety risks of losing access to emergency information, allow federal agencies to better prepare, allow the DTV coupon program to be fixed, and reduce the number of people and tower crews working on antennas during the winter.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, has also introduced a bill to delay the date until June 12.

In a letter to Rockefeller and Waxman, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez said Congress should amend an accounting rule in order to issue more coupons. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which runs the coupon program, reached its funding limit earlier this month. More than 2 million people are on waiting lists to get the coupons.

Podesta's letter also pointed to other problems. Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell said this week that he is deeply concerned about the capacity and competence of the FCC's call center, the letter said.

"As we have heard from a number of consumer advocacy groups, the shortfalls in planning for consumer support, education and converter box availability will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable Americans -- low-income, disabled, elderly and rural people," the letter said.

Today, the cable industry's main lobbying group in Washington sent a letter to the transition team. Kyle McSlarrow, president of National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said the cable industry, broadcast networks, state broadcasting associations and the satellite industry has come up with a plan that would use up to 7,000 live operators to man help lines for consumers with transition problems. The plan, he said, costs about $20 million.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said in a letter yesterday that upholding the Feb. 17 date was necessary to ensure that public safety agencies, who were promised a portion of the airwaves to be vacated by broadcasters, could use them to build interoperable communications networks.

"While our first-responders have been told year after year that this spectrum to be available, its availability has continued to be delayed largely to, in my view, to a well-funded lobby of special interests."

By Kim Hart  |  January 16, 2009; 11:23 AM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Tracked on March 20, 2009 9:07 AM


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Lessee - If we just delay by five months the switching to digital television broadcast it will allow the knuckle heads who have ignored $100 million of advertising that they have to buy a $50 box (or get a coupon) a chance to once again ignore the ads.

Now if you are a business or government entity who had planned on a business venture based on the availability of the massive amount of spectrum that was to be freed up, guess what -- Your finances just dried up because your backers now understand that the government cannot make up its mind. That means that in the midst of trying to stimulate the economy, your goverment is forcing you to fire all of your employees so they can obtain gainful employment building roads.

Don't ya just love it when folks who can't think and don't understand either business or technology are making decisions that tank everything you have done? Hey, we insist on electing neither business folks nor techies, so blame ourselves!

Posted by: tommariner | January 16, 2009 2:15 PM

Humbugg. I am sick of hearing about the transition to digital. And now they want to extend the transition. Is this level of incompetence we pay our govt for? there is a real economic storm in the country and we are worried about this stupid transition! The Y2K switch was hyped for 10 years and fortunately they could not postpone it (haha) Now someone wants to make more money out of extending this transition! Do it NOW and let those who were asleep have no TV for a few hours! They'll learn fast enough.

Posted by: yard80197 | January 16, 2009 3:08 PM

Stupidest damn people in the world. These politicians can't stick to a plan if their lives depended upon it. Please at least attach a rider to the legislation preventing any further advertising. I'm sick of the last year of seeing the same inept discussion over and over again. Why is the government involved with the purchase of the boxes anyway.

Posted by: qcdude3 | January 16, 2009 3:10 PM

pee or get off the pot, them who are not ready, will never be ready, nor make an effort until they lose their signal, those of us whom are ready, and decussed with some broadcasters playing with the signal, here today gone this eveing. TVs are like cars to most people. don,t do nuttin to dem til da won,t tartup.....

Posted by: dv1236 | January 16, 2009 4:15 PM

"Since then, the situation has only gotten worse," Podesta wrote..."

How has it gotten worse, Mr. Podesta? How? A delay in the transition is just going to give the procastinators a reason to keep putting off getting the equipment. We are talking about $40 here, not a health issue or biological warfare. The common number out there is that ONLY a little under 7 percent of the population is not 'ready.' The supportors of delaying the transition say that it is a disporportionate number yet conveniently fail to spell out how they came to that number, why those who consciously decided not to get a converter box can not rely on radio for their emergency information, and what is their metric for when (in their opinion) that the country is ready for transition. Is it when the Fed govt has spent the product of the US population and 40 dollars, is it when less than 1 percent of the population has a converter box or an HDTV? I am sick and tired of these
'sky is falling' people who do nothing to back up thier position beyond some feel good statements that they can not back up with any reliable data. LET THE FEB 17TH SWITCH CONTINUE! These people have had years to get ready and the 40 dollar coupon is not a civil right granted to us under the constitution. Get over it. Delaying the transition will only result in spending taxpayer dollars that do not exist and hurting capitalists who have made business decisions based upon the word of the Fed govt.

Posted by: zelbir1000 | January 16, 2009 4:55 PM

I am one of those "lazy" dolts who ordered and received a converter box coupon right after they were first announced last year. That's right, it was 100% my own stupid fault that the coupons were issued with 90-day expiration dates that ran out before retailers in my city even stocked the damn converter boxes. Grow up, those of you who don't have a clue what you're talking about when you attack and name call everybody you're so convinced never even made an effort to prepare for your precious transition deadline.

Posted by: trialvisit | January 16, 2009 5:14 PM

So the government is learning how hard it is to be a TEACHER.

They had a simple lesson to teach, a few basic points about the DTV transition. They had a lot of money to spend...6.5 million dollars. They had every modern technological gadget at their disposal, and three years to get those few points across to the public.

And what's the result?

According to Consumer Reports: 3 out of 4 Americans didn't get the lesson; they still harbor misconceptions about the DTV transition. 1 out of 3 Americans who will be totally unaffected by the transition nonetheless plan to but a converter box they don't need. And about 7% fall into the "totally clueless" category.

Imagine if a classroom teacher got those kinds of results!

So, Federal Government Know-It-Alls, teaching ain't as easy as it looks, huh?

Posted by: JanS3 | January 20, 2009 12:01 AM

We have been lied to again. I am writing this on behalf of a lot of angry people at Hawai'i, full DTV Conversion, January 15, 2009. This will soon affect the rest of the United States of America.

To the FCC.

There are many things that you left out.

First, about antennas. Multi Directional, Omni Directional UHF/VHF versus what most people have Directional VHF/UHF. Many of the Digital signals are broadcasted from multiple magnetic degrees. Is the FCC going to give coupons for this also, buying new amplified UHF/VHF Omni Directional Antennas, according to, since it is the FCCs Fault. So stop lying to people saying that they "Only" need a DTV Converter Box.

Second, the Hawai'i Emergency First Responders, specifically the Honolulu Police Department tried Digital. Failed 1990s. Being UHF and LOS (Line Of Sight, with any obsticle blocking the signal).

Third, the true reason for this was to sell the frequency licenses to the wireless internet providers and cellular telephone service providers. Government (FCC) Frequency License Auction, 19 Billion Dollar Profit.

Fourth, this is going to affect/effect those that CANNOT afford Cable, Satellite Pay for TV Services. Is the FCC going to give coupons for this also, since it is the FCCs Fault.

Fifth, now the newspapers are stating that they are discontinuing the printing of weekly TV Program Schedules, due to the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) capability, that depicts each day. NOT THE ENTIRE WEEK of scheduled broadcasts. Some of us like planning in advance what we are going to watch on TV. And now you are going to ask people to use a remote control that do not even know how to set the electronic time on the TV.

Sixth, President Barack Obama needs to fire the FCC people that were involved in this mess, that did not figure out all of the financial and personal impacts to those that cannot afford Pay for TV Services to recieve important information (weather warnings, product hazards, News, etc.).

So those that have not been there and done that, first hand experience, are only stating "opinions" and opinions are like rectal orifices, everyones got one, except some are smellier than others.

Posted by: nakamuradavid | January 21, 2009 9:13 AM

I'm a Broadcast engineer working for an NBC affiliate. The people in my broadcast area are more than ready for this change.

Over the last three months we have dealt with and helped an already knowledgeable public prepare for the transition on 2/17. We have run stories not only on what needs to be done on the viewers end (setting up their digital tuners) and the station's end too.

Any delay will be nothing less than an insult to the intelligence and preparation of the population in my viewing area.

Also the cost of running an analogue transmitter for four more months when it is not budgeted for -will- put some television stations out of business, leaving all the viewers in that radius without any EAS warning capability.

Pander to the majority and let the vast minority catch up. That's how you make change, and that's what Obama said he stood for. Lets see if he sticks to his promise.

Posted by: DeadBeatBert | January 21, 2009 11:18 AM

Another point that should be raised is that funding for the coupons ran out. Putting a ninety day time limit on the coupons was ridiculous, as evidenced above it's costing the tax payer time, energy and money.

That's 1.34 BILLION dollars (approximately 3 million digital boxes plus the cost of running the scheme) the government has managed to spend on only 720 million dollars (1.8 million boxes purchased with the coupons) worth of redeemed digital tuner coupons, making each $40 coupon cost the tax payer $74. It's cheaper in the long run for the public to go out and buy a $50 box.

I need a government job.

Posted by: DeadBeatBert | January 21, 2009 12:03 PM

I own a Philips-Magnavox Smartsound Tv. it is 4 years old but has smart-sound so the commercials are not any louder than the movie or tv show. I wish they did this with all of them. I have another tv by Philips-Magnavox that has picture-in-picture so you can keeping watching your show but still see what's on other channels. That's why Philips-Magnavox is the best tv ever!

Posted by: natestansfield | January 23, 2009 10:01 AM

Let’s See – Let’s get the details and facts correct on this:

Both Houston and Dallas are considered to be among the largest OTA base in the nation. So we have about 100 consumers in Houston and about 50 in Dallas that have not bought their converter boxes for their 30 year old TV’s that will fail within a year, so:

Congress is effectively deciding to put 200,000 300,000 or even 500,000 thousand “more” people out of work; i.e. Sony, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, virtually crippling revenue production for all national and local broadcasters and those even distantly connected to the TV industry.

AND Congress is further crippling communications desperately needed for local, state, and federal governments, and most importantly National Security. AND killing or delaying urgently much needed advanced communication infrastructures.

Where is “Transparency” “Honesty” and “Integrity” when you “Need” them?

Posted by: hou_person | January 23, 2009 10:55 AM

Something strange about this Democratic request. Reasons are lame and don't make a lot of sense. There must be some power or money involved that they need time to get hold over regarding these airwaves.

Posted by: curious3 | January 23, 2009 10:16 PM

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