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CEA Offers Obama TV Delay Alternatives

Washington — Returning to action quickly after International CES, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) issued a letter to President-elect Barack Obama’s administration urging that the scheduled shutoff of analog broadcasting go forward on Feb. 17 as scheduled, while offering a set of possible alternatives to a proposed delay.

Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO, reacted skeptically to a letter sent to Congressional leaders Jan. 8 by Obama-Biden presidential transition team co-chair John Podesta asking them to delay to an unspecified date the DTV transition deadline to ensure an effective transition, particularly with the poor and elderly.

During CES, Shapiro argued the plan would be problematic for a variety of reasons, including the likelihood that it would create even more confusion for consumers who need to make changes to continue viewing terrestrially broadcast television programming.

In a formal letter sent to the president-elect’s team Monday, Shapiro said: “A change in the date could engender skepticism, confusion and distrust” the next time government asks the public to take specific actions around a specific event.”

It would also do little “to promote a successful transition to digital television … with awareness now close to 100 percent,” he said.

Additionally, “A delay will require significant unbudgeted expenditures from the public and private sectors. Resources would have to be found for a new national public education campaign centered on the new date. NTIA [The National Telecommunications and Information Administration] would incur ongoing administrative costs to oversee the coupon program. Broadcasters would be forced to extend leases on their analog towers (to the extent extensions are even possible) and power their analog transmitters at a cost of up to tens of thousands of dollars per month, per station,” he said.

Shapiro cautioned that the delay would do little to help “any perceived problems with box availability” and “could indeed suppress the present demand for boxes, leaving retailers with surplus inventory and removing any incentive to order and warehouse boxes for another date, which could also be viewed as changeable.”

Shapiro also reminded the president that “the public interest is served by the return of analog spectrum to be used by carriers that have already invested nearly $20 billion in spectrum auctions and have promised deployment of innovative new next-generation wireless broadband services,” and that “first responders need and deserved the spectrum that has been set aside for improving emergency communications.”

Instead of imposing a delay, Shapiro offered the president and Congress a set of the following alternative solutions:

“(1) [Get] a fix of accounting issues such as the anti-deficiency rules that are preventing NTIA from sending out coupons despite available funding. Only 19 million of the 33.5 million available coupons have been redeemed.

“(2) Examine total funding for the coupon program and explore any need for additional funding, for example, to send coupons out via first class mail to eliminate three week delivery delays.

“(3) [Eliminate] the 90-day expiration date on coupons, which would put more coupons into use.

“(4) Explore additional funding for government call centers and funding to local grassroots groups to answer questions about the transition.

“(5) Should the government determine that the supply of converter boxes will not meet demand, examine permitting use of converter box coupons to purchase access to digital television either through pay service (cable, satellite or fiber) or credit toward the purchase of a limited-feature or low-cost digital television.”