Obama transition team suggests delaying DTV transition

With the latest technological countdown for change still in progress, the incoming President-Elect may try to call a halt.

While the February 17 switchover date to a new, principal broadcasting format is looming, another huge switchover is even nearer: January 20. And all of a sudden, the transition team that had until recently suggested that there is only one administration in power at any one time, is suggesting that the US government may not be doing enough to help citizens through this difficult change.

According to reports citing letters that were unavailable from Senate Web sites Thursday due to what appears to be a service outage, Obama transition team co-chairman John Podesta wrote to the chairmen of the House and Senate Commerce Committees that the US Commerce Dept. had not made enough funds available to give $40 coupons towards citizens' purchases of converter boxes. "With coupons unavailable, support and education insufficient, and the most vulnerable Americans exposed," Podesta wrote, "I urge you to consider a change to the legislatively mandated analog cutoff date."

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Podesta's letter comes after the recipients of that letter, according to a Washington Post report this morning, requested the very same thing of President Bush. Their suggestion was that the transition date should be delayed "until a plan is in place to minimize the number of consumers who will lose TV signals."

Speaking on behalf of broadcasters, in a statement issued this afternoon, National Association of Broadcasters Exec. VP Dennis Wharton suggested that it was the original firmness of this transition date that enabled the whole changeover to take place to begin with, and that it may be far too late now for legislators or executive officials to trade blame for insufficient resources.

"The certainty created when Congress set the February 17 hard date for the DTV transition was a positive catalyst for broadcasters, manufacturers, retailers, public safety groups, consumers and the government," Wharton wrote. "NAB and broadcasters nationwide are committed to being ready by February 17 and strongly support a solution that would enable the government to continue making converter box coupons available to consumers who rely on free television. We continue to urge Congress to act swiftly to ensure coupons are made available for those who need them."

Later in the day, Wharton's boss, NAB President David Rehr, issued a note that was more conciliatory toward the transition team. "Today's announcement...reaffirms the importance of free and local broadcasting in the fabric of American life," he wrote.

Last November, soon after his appointment to the new transition team, Podesta -- former chief of staff under Pres. Clinton -- suggested to Multichannel News that the DTV switchover would be one of his team's many subjects, although he admitted some ignorance of its details at the time. "The digital television transition will take place, I believe, in early February. I don't have the date stuck in my head. We're focused on the fact that that will be an early challenge and we need to be ready and prepared for that," he said.

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