Alaska senators back delay of switch to digital television

Begich will be among the first to review Obama's proposal

Posted: Sunday, January 11, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich support President-elect Barack Obama's request to push back February's nationwide switch to digital television.

Those with TVs connected to cable or satellite services are not affected. But those who still use rabbit ear antennas need a new television or converter box.

Begich will be among the first to review Obama's proposal because it will need the Commerce Committee's backing, and Begich sits on that panel.

The newly elected Begich, an Anchorage Democrat, said the digital transition never surfaced as a priority while he campaigned. But he's heard more about it in weeks leading up to being sworn in Tuesday.

"I'm already getting calls about it because it's coming up," he said. "I would like to delay it. I'm not opposed to that at all."

Last week, federal officials said the program to assist with costs of converter boxes has run out of money, so some of the $40 vouchers will not be available by the Feb. 17 deadline.

Murkowski, a Republican and the state's senior senator, said that was a significant driver to her position on the conversion.

"Given that the government's own program to help consumers prepare for the transition to digital television has run out of money, I think it is only fair to push back the transition date until we can better help consumers adjust," Murkowski said in a statement.

The Federal Communications Commission says nearly one-third of the televisions in the Fairbanks area are affected.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration estimates that about 42 percent of these households are ready for the conversions.

Consumer advocates have been concerned how low-income, rural or elderly Americans would be able to adjust.

"The transition to digital television should be as painless as possible," Murkowski said. "I don't think we should go forward with it when potentially millions of Americans won't be able to use digital television signals."

Rep. Don Young was unavailable for comment on the Obama transition team's plan.

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