According to a report from the National Journal, House Energy and Commerce chairman John Dingell, D-MI, shocked the broadcast industry last week when he suggested that the switch to digital television, scheduled for Feb. 17, 2009, could be delayed.
Dingell is the highest ranking lawmaker to publicly state that the DTV transition deadline may not be met.
Talking to journalists following a speech to the NAB, Dingell expressed reservations as to whether all of the 1700 stations and hundreds of millions of consumers would be fully prepared for the transition. His main concern focused on the Republican-created plan to offer vouchers to curb the expense of new technology required to keep older televisions operational — namely set-top boxes.
"We don't yet have technical standards for the boxes. We don't know when the boxes will be ready. We don't know how much personal information consumers must disclose on the application," Dingell told the audience.
He also said he was concerned about retailers having the necessary supply on hand and being able to redeem coupons in a timely manner, as well as whether the $1.5 billion that Congress set aside for the program would be enough. Neither Dingell nor Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee chairman Edward Markey, D-MA, thinks it will be sufficient.
"We share a lot of the concerns of Chairman Dingell on the funding being inadequate to serve all of these television sets that could go dark," NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said, adding, "We want to avoid a train wreck."
According to Wharton, "broadcasters are ready" to meet the DTV transition deadline unless Congress delays it, which would require Congress to change the law itself.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief John Kneuer, who is charged with implementing the voucher plan, will testify before Markey's subcommittee in the coming weeks at an oversight hearing.
Delaying the deadline would not only affect the approximately 20 million households with 73 million analog televisions, but also electronics manufacturers and broadcasters, many of whom have based business plans on the ability to offer multiple digital signals.