WASHINGTON – US president-elect Barack Obama's transition team has asked for a delay in the nation's scheduled switch to digital television next month, citing funding difficulties.
The Obama transition team co-chair John Podesta has written to key US lawmakers asking for an extension to the February 17 legislatively-mandated analog cutoff date, according to copy of the letter made available to AFP.
Obama will take over from President George Bush on January 20.
Based on plans by the Bush administration, stations will cease their analog transmissions and broadcast only in digital form from February 17, requiring consumers who rely on over-the-air signals to install converter boxes.
Consumers are to be provided with a 40-dollar coupon to defray the cost of the converter but Podesta said the program to distribute the coupons "has run out of funds."
"During the transition, we have discovered major difficulties in the preparation for the February 17 conversion from analog to digital broadcasting," he said.
"These weaknesses mean major problems for consumers."
By early February projections suggested more than five million coupon requests would not be met, with the figure "increasing by hundreds of thousands every day," he said.
In addition, the funds provided to support the conversion are "woefully inadequate," he said, pointing out that particularly low income, rural and elderly Americans would be hit.
"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," Podesta said in the letter to key legislators in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The US Congress reportedly allocated 1.34 billion dollars to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to distribute converter box coupons.
The switch to digital television will free up wireless airwaves for public safety agencies and other advanced mobile services.
An auction of those analog airwaves raised 19 billion dollars for the government last year, according to the the Washington Post.
Major American broadcasters have signaled that they support a delay.
"Our first concern is what's best for our viewers, and we believe that the Obama-Biden Transition Team shares our concern," media giant News Corporation said in a statement Thursday.
But the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry group, suggested keeping the February 17 transition date.
It said converter boxes were available in sufficient supply and consumers were aware of and prepared for the transition, but added legitimate concerns about the coupon program should be addressed immediately.
"If the goal is to avoid consumer confusion, keeping the February 17 transition date that is engrained in consumer minds is the best solution," said association president Gary Shapiro.
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