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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Report: Obama has asked Congress to delay the Feb. 17 digital TV transition

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(UPDATE: Multichannel News magazine is reporting that an official from Obama's transition team has officially asked Congress to delay the digital TV transition.)

When FCC commissioner Michael Copps was in the Tampa Bay area a few months ago, I asked: Will Obama or the new Democratic majority in Congress move the Feb. 17 transition to digital TV or even erase it altogether?

Back then, Copps was pretty confident it wouldn't happen. But recent events have cropped up to add a little haze to that particular prediction.

According to Broadcasting and Cable magazine, several consumer advocacy groups have asked Congress to consider delaying the transition, at least one prominent Democrat legislator has indicated he's considering the idea and Obama's transition team is reportedly also thinking about a delay.

The biggest reason: The pool of money allocated to give citizens coupons to offset the cost of buying a digital converter for their analog TV sets has run out of money. The way it's supposed to work, each American household can apply for two $40 coupons covering most of the cost of purchasing the cheapest digtial-to-analog converters. Currently, new applications will be put on a waiting list as legislators scramble to get more money to the program.

The snafu, which Copps also predicted months ago, seems emblematic of the government's lax efforts in preparing the nation for this potentially jarring change. The FCC commissioner recalled a monumental effort to prepare for the Y2K computer glitch in 2000, with regular meetings at the White House and a top-down sense of urgency completely missing from the DTV effort -- which, unlike Y2K, we know will take place, unless Congress acts.

Months ago, Copps feared too much talk of a delay would make viewers complascent about making sure they were ready for the transition. But it seems the time has come for Congress to consider delaying this train wreck before 10 percent of the TV audience gets lopped off in the confusion.

Perhaps Obama is afraid commercials like this may soon become reality on TV:

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[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:54pm]

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