Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control….

Jan 8, 2009 4:55pm

John Podesta, co-chair of Barack Obama’s Presidential Transition Team, has sent a letter to the chairs and ranking Republicans on the appropriate House and Senate committees, urging that the transition to digital TV be delayed.  The shortage of funds for those now-infamous $40 vouchers to help people buy converter boxes has been only the most visible part of the problem, says the letter.  "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 writes. “The funds provided to support the conversion are woefully inadequate," says the letter.  "Coupon demand appears headed to a level that will exceed that authorized by Congress. In addition, the government’s programs to assist consumers through the upheaval of the conversion are inadequately funded. There is insufficient support for the problem consumers (particularly low-income, rural and elderly Americans) will experience as a result of the analog signal cutoff.” The full letter is HERE as a PDF file. Consumers Union had written the same members of Congress the day before, with some of the same issues.  Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst there: “The federal government is getting $19 billion from selling the analog TV spectrum, while people with analog TVs have to go out and spend their own money for a converter box. Everyone affected by the digital switch should be able to get their $40 coupons. Congress needs to consider delaying the transition until these problems are fixed.”  See the full text HERE. Late today, this statement in response from Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation: "I’ve long believed that there is too much at stake for consumers and for public safety to simply cross our fingers and hope for the best when it comes to the digital television transition.  Millions of Americans could be left in the dark if this doesn’t go smoothly. 

“The Obama Administration deserves time to bring order to what has been an appallingly mismanaged process by the Bush Administration.  I look forward to reviewing the details of the Obama Administration proposal with my colleagues, and will support delaying the current date of the DTV transition until we can do it right." Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, takes an opposite view.  In a statement to AP he says, "Ditching the deadline and slathering on more millions of taxpayer dollars…is just panic."

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