Obama reiterates call to delay DTV transition

by Kim Hart, Washington Post

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."

article originally published at http://voices.washingtonpost.com/posttech/2009/01/obama_reiterates_call_to_delay....

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