FCC Chief To Congress: Don't Delay DTV Switch

Kevin Martin is urging lawmakers, and President-elect Obama, to press ahead with the transition.
U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin has advised President-elect Barack Obama's administration not to delay the transition to digital television.

The transition is scheduled to take place Feb. 17, when all analog signals would cease. Last week, Obama urged Congress to postpone the deadline so Americans would have more time to buy converter boxes. Only television viewers with old analog sets with antennas or rabbit ears need converter boxes. Customers with cable already have the technology needed to view programs after the transition.

Many people who need converter boxes have low or fixed incomes and all were eligible for a $40 coupon program for reimbursement.

However, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced last Monday that the U.S. Department of Commerce funds for the coupons had been depleted and anyone who requested coupons Sunday, Monday, or thereafter would be put on a waiting list.

That prompted several politicians, including Obama, to call for postponement of the transition deadline.

More than 1.1 million Americans are on a waiting list for coupons, and a recent report from Nielsen Media Research found that 8 million, or 7%, of American households are unprepared for the switch.

Delays would only add to the confusion, Martin said. During a question-and-answer session at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he said that many broadcasters have already begun disposing of their analog equipment and performing related construction.

Congress should consider alternatives like adding funds to the coupon program, Martin said.

Congress is charged with making the decision about whether or not to delay the transition.