Obama Calls for a Delay to the Digital Switch

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President-elect Barack Obama has joined the growing chorus of those calling for the digital television switch to be pushed back from its February 17 deadline. Yesterday, John Podesta, the co-chair of Obama's transition team, sent a letter to key Congressional members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Energy & Commerce Committee saying there was insufficient support to assist consumers with the switch. Of the major networks, both NBC and ABC said they support Obama's call for a delay and CBS is open to the idea, according to reports.

Currently, after February 17, if you use a set-top or rooftop antenna to watch television you'll need a special converter box to keep your TV going. The converters cost about $50 to $80. Homes with cable or satellite service will be unaffected by the switch. Broadcasters are switching to digital signals to free up the wireless spectrum they currently occupy for other uses such as wireless broadband Internet.

Obama's announcement comes just days after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration ran out of money for its TV Converter Box Coupon Program. Congress set aside $1.34 billion for the program, which provided up to two $40 coupons per household to assist with the cost of the switch. Demand for the coupons was higher than expected and the program exhausted its budget long before it could assist everyone in need. Currently, about 1 million people are on a waiting list for coupons and that number is expected to hit 5 million by early February.

Approximately 6.8 percent of homes are not ready to go digital, according to a poll by Nielsen Media Research. That translates into 7.8 million households that will lose their primary source of news and entertainment when analog transmissions cease.

Obama joins a growing list of those who want to put the brakes on the end of analog transmissions. Earlier this week, the Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, called on Congress to delay the switch after the NTIA announced its coupon program was broke. Last month, cable TV operators said they would voluntary delay migrating cable channels from analog to digital. The cable companies said customers were getting confused between the broadcast and cable switch--two different programs.

While some may welcome Obama's call for a delay, it may prove difficult for any changes at this point. We are less than six weeks away from the switch, and Congress may simply be unable to move swiftly enough with other pressing concerns such as the economy dominating the agenda. However, if Congress fails to act the only thing a large chunk of Americans will be able to watch by mid-February is TV snow.

This story, "Obama Calls for a Delay to the Digital Switch" was originally published by PCWorld.

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