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DTV update: Obama asks Congress to delay digital switch

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Note: This story has been updated to reflect Obama's new stance on the DTV issue.

In the latest bump on the road to all-digital TV signals, the influential Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, asked Congress to shape up or push back the February deadline for the DTV transition.

The federal program designed to wean Americans off analog-only TV sets was underfunded and mismanaged, writes the Consumers Union in a letter to President Bush, President-elect Barack Obama, and the heads of the House and Senate commerce committees.

On Feb. 17, TV broadcasters will switch to all-digital airwaves, effectively cutting off service to analog televisions that depend on antennas. Consumers can buy a converter box that will translate the new DTV signal into something analog sets will recognize.

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Congress mandated the transition to free up airwaves for next-generation mobile networks and allocated $1.3 billion for coupons to help subsidize the price of converter boxes. But the government announced Monday that the voucher program has run out of money. The feds do not expect that every issued coupon will be redeemed, but they need to wait for the current ones to expire before handing out any more. And with 103,000 names already on a waiting list, Americans may need to wait until after Feb. 17 to receive their $40 vouchers.

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