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Inouye: DTV Transition Could Cost Next Administration

If an argument for national safety won’t work, maybe a political one will. 

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, is sounding the alarm that the next president could be a victim of the current administration’s handling of the digital TV transition.

On Feb. 17, less than a month after the new administration takes office, television stations across the land will stop broadcasting in analog waves, which means that 21 million Americans who rely exclusively on over-the-air television will have to switch to cable or get a converter box in order to watch TV.

The government has set up a program to provide converter boxes to those who need it, but Inouye sees hitches on the horizon with the program.

If the transition is not smooth, that could mean means millions of Americans might not have the opportunity to see the administration during the crucial first 100-day period of its reign, often considered to be a president’s best opportunity to shape public opinion.

“I am troubled that a bi-partisan and non-controversial public policy goal, intended to help our emergency first responders better serve and protect the American people, may end up as an albatross around the neck of our next President,” Inouye said.

The House will hold a hearing tomorrow morning on the status of the DTV transmission; the Senate will hold one next week.

This group of potential tube casualties includes a disproportionately large portion of Spanish-speaking, elderly and low-income Americans. Of the 21 million US households rely exclusively on over-the-air television, the GAO found that almost half had incomes under $30,000 and that about 28 percent of them were Hispanic.

“I must say that if I was the person responsible for ensuring a successful transition for Sen. Obama or Sen. McCain, I would be deeply concerned,” Inouye said.
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