Obama's transition team wants to push back the date when analog broadcasters switch over to digital, however FCC's chairman rejects the idea.
During CES '09, Federal Communications Commissions chairman and Republican Kevin Martin said that a delay in the upcoming analog-to-digital transition taking place next month might actually cause more confusion, that there are other options to pursue rather than push the transition date back. As reported by The Associate Press, last Thursday, President-elect Barack Obama's transition team requested that Congress not switch off the analog signals just yet, citing that the program ran out of money and currently could not fill the requests of consumers seeking converter box vouchers, thus the need to delay the change.
Martin said Saturday that Congress could pass additional funding, or eliminate the 90-day expiration deadline on the coupons altogether. Over the past few months, broadcasters have heavily advertised the February 17 transition, and many have even scheduled the engineering work to take down the analog antennas and make way for digital coverage.
However, turmoil seems to boil within the FCC, as Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein voiced his understanding of the delay at a CES panel discussion. "This program has been badly mismanaged. It's not ready for prime time," he said. "There are so many elements of the preparation that have not been undertaken ... We don't have program in place in the field to help people who need assistance in their homes. The phone banks are inadequately prepared."
Last week the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) put a "waiting list" into effect after the $1.34 billion in funding quickly depleted. 103,000 requests were immediately added to the list, and those currently on the list will only receive a voucher if one goes unclaimed and expires. The NTIA urged consumers to go out and purchase a converter box for at least one television set, and not wait for a voucher. The NTIA claims that more than 24 million households requested over 46 million coupons.
With constant advertising and online media coverage, consumers facing the turmoil of upgrading current connections to digital may or may not find the postponement confusing. Time is running out, as February 15 looms in the distance and millions of over-the-air viewers may eventually be left in the dark if something isn't done soon. A delay seems appropriate, if not necessary, despite the FCC chairman's reservations.
"I'm concerned about a delay in the sense that if you can solve that issue other ways, a delay has actually the potential to confuse consumers," said Martin. "All of our messaging has been about Feb. 17 — not just ours — the industry's."