Democrats Air Concerns About Analog Switchover

Nov 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

On the eve of their takeover of the House, Democrats on Thursday raised new issues about the government’s plan to manage the switchover from analog to digital TV in 2009 and hinted that the switch could be delayed if the program isn’t handled right.

“Failure to devise a consumer-friendly converter box program, or to inform consumers properly of its existence, could significantly jeopardize the public’s acceptance of the transition and derail the firm deadline,” said incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and committee Democrats in a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The NTIA is the president’s principal adviser on telecommunications policy.

Democrats have been critical of the Republicans’ plan for the switchover, suggesting insufficient money has being set aside to provide converter boxes to analog households or to publicize the switch. The new letter signals that those concerns will continue in the next Congress, when the Democrats take charge.

“We continue to believe this plan is highly flawed and disadvantages the poor, the elderly, minority groups, and those with multiple analog television sets in their home,” the letter states.

The Democrats didn’t propose to immediately change the Feb. 17, 2009, switchover date. Instead, their concerns are whether offering $40 coupons for converters only to homes without cable or satellite is sufficient, whether the government needs to require that converter boxes don’t provide downgraded signals, and that the $5 million spending on a consumer education touting the change is “woefully inadequate for such a broad and fundamental change.”

The government’s limiting the boxes to over-the-air households “would unfairly disenfranchise consumers who possess perfectly functioning analog televisions,” according to the letter. “Consumers who have purchased analog [TVs] deserve a government backed plan to hold them harmless in this transition.”

The letter said the converter boxes “at a minimum [should] replicate the picture and audio quality consumers experience today when watching their analog televisions,” and called on the agency to see that the government’s $5 million public education effort is bolstered by industry efforts.