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National Telecom and Information Administration Chief Baker Exiting

Washington – For the second time since November, the Bush administration is losing the Commerce Department official in charge of the $1.5 billion subsidy program designed to help millions of consumer watch digital TV signals on their old analog sets after early 2009.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Meredith Attwell Baker, also acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration administrator, is leaving her post in the administration, NTIA communications director Todd Sedmak said Thursday night.

“She’s been talking for months to Commerce Department officials about her intent to leave,” said Sedmak, who didn’t know Baker’s exact departure date.

On Feb. 17, 2009, every full-power TV station in the country must turn off its analog transmitter and rely exclusively on digital signals. Millions of analog TV sets could go dark if not connected to cable TV, satellite TV, or a digital-to-analog box.

Until March 31, 2009, any U.S. household may apply to NTIA for two $40 coupons to defray the cost of converter boxes bought at qualified retail outlets. The boxes are intended to assist consumers that may want to rely on analog TV sets for over-the-air reception of digital TV signals after the analog cutoff

“The transition to digital television is one of most critical consumer issues facing our Committee this year,” said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) chairman of the House Energy and Commerce. “We appreciate Ms. Baker’s willingness to work with Congress to ensure the public is educated and the transition is smooth.

NTIA has money to fund for 33.5 million converter box coupons after administrative costs.

According to an industry source, Neil Patel, an aide to Vice President Richard Cheney, is going to be named to run NTIA during the waning moment of the Bush administration.

Baker, daughter-in-law of former Secretary of State James Baker, joined the Commerce Department in 2004. She moved up to acting NTIA administrator late last year, filling a vacancy left by John Kneuer when he joined the private sector.

Multichannel News is a sister publication to TWICE.