Update: Obama Calls for DTV Switch Delay

UPDATED After we posted a story about a possible delay in the DTV transition earlier today, President-elect Obama’s transition team asked Congress to push back the DTV switch date. More on that and a statement from Rep. Markey at the end of the original post.

With just a little over a month until the national digital television (DTV) switch on Feb. 17, the Consumers Union has asked to push the date back, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), chairman of the House Telecommunications and Internet sub-committee is considering it.

The Consumers Union is concerned that too many people will be shut off from television service once the switch occurs. TVWeek reports that the Consumers Union sent a letter to key legislators as well as President Bush and President-elect Obama. From that letter:

“With Feb. 17 only 40 days away, we are concerned that millions of at-risk consumers, including rural, low-income and elderly citizens across the country, could be left with blank television screens. Consumers have fewer resources than ever to buy the necessary equipment to regain access to essential news, information and emergency broadcasts. Against this backdrop, Congress should consider delaying the digital transition so the significant flaws in the converter box coupon program can be adequately addressed and sufficient local assistance put in place to help millions of consumers who are being forced to navigate this transition.”

The DTV switch hit a big bump in the road earlier this week when the program that funds the $40 coupons that can be applied towards the purchase of a DTV converter box ran out of money earlier than anticipated.

Last month, the Consumers Union found that while 90 percent of the country is aware of the switch, 25 percent think it requires subscribing to cable or satellite, and 41 percent think every TV needs a converter. Also last month, Nielsen released its latest DTV numbers and found that 7.8 million U.S. homes were completely unready for the switch.

The Consumers Union suggests pushing the date back four months. A spokesperson for Rep. Markey said “[W]ith the date looming, moving the date back certainly warrants further discussion and may be a wise choice.”

UPDATE: John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, sent a letter to Capital Hill today, urging Congress to take action with regard to the DTV transition writing: “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.”

Separately, Rep. Markey issued the following statement (ed. note: shortly after we posted Rep. Markey’s original statement, his office issued an updated version, which we have included here):

“President-elect Obama’s call to move back the digital television transition date highlights the vulnerability of millions of Americans to the impending analog signal shut-off. It also underscores the need for prompt Congressional examination of his proposal.

“Moving the transition date entails significant logistical challenges. However, the prospect of leaving millions of consumers in the dark requires Congress to immediately consider the feasibility of the President-elect’s proposal. In addition, Congress should move quickly to address the needs of the millions of Americans currently on a waiting list for coupons to purchase converter boxes. The Bush administration left us with insufficient notice to address this critical problem on anything other than an emergency basis. The Congress should immediately pass legislation providing for an exemption to the Antideficiency Act. This would make it possible for an additional 8 million Americans to receive coupons. I will work with my colleagues on this and other steps to protect consumers as quickly as possible.”

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