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To Delay or Not to Delay

As Barack Obama takes the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States, he faces more challenges than most who have gone before him. While it's certainly not at the top of his to-do list, the transition to digital-only over-the-air television broadcasting is of growing concern to many Americans who rely on OTA as their only source of TV programming, and this concern has not escaped Obama's attention.

During the recent CES trade show, Obama announced that he wanted to delay the transition because of lingering, widespread confusion and the fact that the government has run out of money to subsidize coupons good for $40 toward a converter box that will translate digital broadcast signals to analog for older sets. According to reports I've seen, 1 to 2 million people are now on a waiting list for these coupons.

Apparently, Obama's primary concern is for the elderly and disadvantaged, who comprise a disproportionate fraction of those who receive their TV exclusively over the air. As a result, he wants to make more money available and give people more time to acquire the converters. Last Thursday, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a bill that would reset the transition date to June 12, and Shelly Palmer, an industry analyst, reports that his sources inside the Washington DC beltway say the transition will be delayed 90 days and that it's essentially a done deal.

When I first heard this new at CES, I was skeptical that the transition could be delayed after so many public-service announcements have already aired and continue to be aired even as I write this. On the other hand, I am concerned about those who won't be ready on Feb. 17—if there's some sort of disaster, they won't be able to get information on the Emergency Alert System.

Then there's the mismanagement of the transition itself. First, the date was poorly chosen—February is not the best time of year to be crawling on the roof to install a new antenna in many parts of the country. Also, the coupons were issued with a 90-day time limit, and 40 percent of the $1.34 billion subsidy has been lost because those coupons have expired. Finally, the Feb. 17 cutoff was established by Republicans over Democratic objections, leaving the new administration less than a month to finish the job.

So, all in all, I support a delay, if only to give Obama time to deal with the serious issues that remain, especially those related to public safety. What do you think? I invite you to post a comment here and share your thoughts with our community.

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.

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