WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama backs a move to delay a mandatory switch to digital television signals on fears viewers are unprepared and as the government has run out of coupons to help pay for converter boxes.
"The February 17 cutoff date for analog signals should be reconsidered and extended," John Podesta, co-chairman of the Obama-Biden transition team, said in a letter to key lawmakers on Thursday.
Congress mandated the February 17 switch to digital television, which will affect some 20 million consumers who do not already use the technology. Owners of older television sets receiving over-the-air signals must buy converter boxes, replace their TVs with digital models, or subscribe to satellite or digital cable service.
But the government said earlier this week it had run out of $40 discount coupons for consumers to help pay for converter boxes needed to keep their sets from going blank, leading a major consumer group to call for a delay of the analog switch-off.
"With coupons unavailable, support and education insufficient and the most vulnerable Americans exposed, I urge you to consider a change to the legislatively mandated cut-off date," Podesta wrote.
Obama's wading into the issue is likely to significantly boost the case for delay, according to one congressional source.