Republicans Fighting to Keep DTV Transition Date

House Republicans are hoping to convince those on the other side of the aisle to keep the Feb. 17 DTV transition date. In a Jan. 14 letter to President-elect Barack Obama, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, along with 14 other committee Republicans, wrote that delaying the deadline would hurt first-responders and delay the public safety improvements intended by the transition.

“The transition is freeing broadcast spectrum for firefighters, police officers and other life-savers and also providing them with $1 billion to equip themselves with the state-of-the-art communications gear that was so tragically lacking on 9/11,” lawmakers wrote. “The transition plan is freeing additional spectrum for advanced wireless broadband services and has raised almost $20 billion in spectrum auction proceeds for taxpayers.”

Barton and others are responding to a growing chorus among Democrats, both past and present, as well as groups such as the Consumers Union, that too many Americans are woefully unprepared for the transition to digital broadcast TV. Their call came to a head last week when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the federal bureau that administers the $40 coupons for converter boxes ran out of funding, leaving more than 1 million consumers on waiting lists.

According to Nielsen, 7.8 million households are completely unprepared for the transition, but that translates to 93 percent of households having at least one TV set ready to go.

“None of this would have happened without the certainty of a deadline,” the lawmakers wrote. “No one said this was going to be easy, but we have unquestionably made the right decision to complete the digital television transition on Feb. 17, 2009. We believe that panicky talk of a delay is breeding stultifying uncertainty, and that an actual delay would be a monumental error in judgment that would damage the program and the public.”

Instead of delaying, Barton and others are working on bipartisan legislation that would allow the government to issue more coupons.