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CEA Says Changing DTV Transition Date Won't Help

The Consumer Electronics Association has told the incoming Obama administration that it is ready to support "any necessary changes" to the DTV transition implementation plan, including using converter-box subsidy coupons toward cable service or the purchase of a DTV set. But it doesn’t think changing the DTV transition date will help things along.

"Should the government determine that the supply of converter boxes will not meet demand," says CEA, "examine permitting use of converter box coupons to purchase access to digital televisions, either through pay service credit toward a limited feature or low-cost digital television."

That and other suggestions came in a letter to Obama transition team co-chair John Podesta from CEA President Gary Shapiro, who was making a case against changing the date. He argued that most Americans (over 95%) are already prepared for the transition, that moving the date would be akin to crying wolf, "engendering skepticism, confusion and distrust the next time government asks them to undertake specific actions," and that the change "will simply confuse Americans while doing little to promote a sucessful transition."

He also said it would be expensive to mount a new DTV education campaign.

Podesta wrote a letter to Congress last week asking that the Feb. 17 DTV transition date be changed

. That was prompted by the administration's announcement that the

DTV-to-analog converter box subsidy coupon program was having to put coupon requests on a waiting list because it had reach a funding ceiling

and was getting more requests faster than it could free up more money as coupons expired.

While the Obama transition team found support last week among broadcast networks and some key legislators for changing the date —

the Big Four nets

and Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) promently among them--local broadcasters, current administration officials and others point to the logistical problems, the added expense and others issues making the call a tough one.

Shapiro said that delaying a date won't solve "any percieved problem" with availability of converter boxes, saying a short-term move of the date, "will not cause any new boxes to be ordered, produced or distributed" by manufacturers given the manufacturing and distribution cycle.

Shapiro argued that manufacturers and retailers will be ready, with between 6 and 12 million boxes in stock, in addition to the 19 million already sold. CEA predicts the demand from over-the-air-only households will be 13 million boxes, but almost half the coupons--about 48%--are going unredeemed, and even anticipating a 70% redemption rate, as a bill being drafted to ease the coupon accounting backlog would do, there would be enough boxes assuming the middle of that 6-12 million range on boxes in stock.

Adding to the laundry list of objections, Shapiro pointed out that private businesses and police and firefighters have been promised some of that analog TV spectrum for new services and emergency communications.

Shapiro also had a number of suggestions of how to fix the problem without taking the "serious and potentially disruptive" setp of delaying the date. They included: 1) fixing the accounting rules currently keeping the National Telecommunications & Information Adminsitration from sending out coupons despite available funding; 2) look at boosting funding, perhaps to send out coupons first class (as a bill being drafted in Congress would do); 3) elemintate the 90-day expiration date on coupons; 4) provide more government funding for call centers and grassroots groups (Obama is also concerned about a general lack of funding; and 5) using the coupons for cable or DTVs.