Concerned that millions of Americans will be left in the dark if broadcasters switch off their analog signals on the scheduled date of Feb. 17, Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.V., the incoming chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has introduced a bill to delay the transition until June 12.
Rockefeller warned that millions of Americans are still waiting to receive coupons for the converter boxes that will be required to ensure analog sets still receive over-the-air signals, and accused the Bush administration of mismanaging the transition.
“It did not have to be this way,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “I am especially concerned because this transition is going to hit our most vulnerable citizens — the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those with language barriers — the hardest. Rural communities that rely on over-the-air television will be especially impacted. We risk leaving those who are most reliant on over-the-air broadcast television for their information literally in the dark, and I’m fighting to see that this does not occur.”
Part of the problem is that the agency with the Commerce Department that is managing the coupon program has run out of money. The stimulus bill introduced in the House yesterday would allocate $650 million to fund the program and other aspects of the transition, but lawmakers hope to get that bill passed just days before the scheduled DTV transition date. That wouldn’t leave nearly enough time to get coupons to everyone on the waiting list.
Rockefeller’s bill follows a call from President-elect Obama to delay the transition.
In addition to fixing the coupon program, the bill hopes to give the Federal Communications Commission enough time to adequately staff call centers and ramp up its efforts to educate consumers about what steps they’ll need to take to ensure they don’t lose signal.
The two Democratic commissioners at the FCC have expressed support for a delay. Republican Chairman Kevin Martin, who will resign on Jan. 20, has warned that a delay would only further consumer confusion, given that a year-and-a-half of public-service messaging about the transition has focused on the date of Feb. 17.