Wheeler Proposed Delaying DTV Transition

Former cable lobbyist working for Obama transition team instrumental in decision.

A former top cable lobbyist was instrumental in Barack Obama's decision to ask broadcasters to delay the DTV transition.

Tom Wheeler, who has been heading up the Obama transition team's vetting of various government agencies, including the FCC, says he recommended that the DTV transition date be moved, and that t was because the groundwork for the transition over the past three years since the hard date was set "hasn't been laid."

That's according to an interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb. Wheeler said the decision to call for delaying the transition "came to my desk."

 The letter asking for the delay was then sent by transition co-chair John Podesta. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) has been working with the transition team on a bill that would move the Feb. 17 date.

Wheeler is on leave from venture capital firm Core Capital Partners, which specializes in tech companies. He is the former head of the National Cable Television Association (now the National Cable & Telecommunications Association).

Lamb asked Wheeler why he had recommended delaying the date.

"Congress passed the law [in 2005] saying that you will go to digital television and cut all analog signals...and in the intervening three-plus years, the groundwork hasn't been laid," wheeler said. "First of all, there was a coupon program put in place so that people could get coupons to defray the cost of a converter so [viewers] could use their old television sets and not have to buy new television sets." He said heavy demand for the coupons--which has forced the government to delay distributing them--was in part because of the economy, but blamed the coupon box distribution problems on "underestimation" of demand, characterizing the result as the coupon program having "gone broke."

The situation is not quite so dire. While the waiting list has grown to approaching two million coupon requests, Congress is working on a legislative accounting fix that would free up funds already in the program and allow coupons to start flowing again.

But every day that Congress does not act, more requests go on the waiting list and the number of folks who may not have time to buy and try out the boxes by Feb. 17 grows.