Group Pushes for Delay in Digital TV Conversion

Citing Monday's announcement that funds have dried up for government vouchers toward digital TV converter boxes, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports is urging Congress, President Bush, and President-elect Barack Obama to delay the mandated national switch to digital TV.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which administers the voucher program, announced Monday that it has used up the $1.34 billion set aside by Congress to distribute vouchers. TV owners who request vouchers will, from now on, be placed on a waiting list; NTIA will send out new vouchers as funds unused ones expire.

Analog TV signals will cease Feb. 17. Without converter boxes, TVs that use antennae will no longer receive signals.

Consumers Union, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, today asked for the switch to be postponed in a letter to Bush, Obama, incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

The group urged those recipients to "consider delaying the transition until a plan is in place to minimize the number of consumers who will lose TV signals, particularly by fixing the flaws in the federal coupon program created to offset the cost of this transition."

"The federal government will receive over $19 billion as a result of the DTV spectrum auction. Millions of consumers could now be forced to spend their own money to navigate this federally mandated transition. This economic climate is not the right time to ask consumers to dig deeper into their own pockets to pay for the miscalculation by the federal government," the group wrote.

"With February 17 only forty days away, we are concerned that millions of at-risk consumers, including rural, low-income and elderly citizens across the country could be left with blank television screens," the group warned.