President-elect Barack Obama's transition team on Thursday asked Congress to delay the shut-off. The main reason the team cited was that the Commerce Department earlier in the week ran out of money for the coupons that subsidize the cost of the converter boxes which allow older analog TVs to receive digital signals.
In an interview at the International Consumer Electronics Show here, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said it's important to make sure that the converter box subsidy program gets back on track, but that doesn't mean delaying the analog turnoff is necessary.
"There are options they can do without having to delay to get coupons flowing immediately," Martin said. Congress could give the program additional funding, or eliminate the 90-day expiration deadline on the coupons, he said.
"I'm concerned about a delay in the sense that if you can solve that issue other ways, a delay has actually the potential to confuse consumers," said Martin, a Republican. "All of our messaging has been about Feb. 17 - not just ours - the industry's."
The Feb. 17 date has been widely advertised by local TV stations.
Additionally, Martin said, some broadcasters have already scheduled the engineering work necessary to take down their analog antennas so they can maximize their digital coverage.
The date of the transition and the terms of the coupon program were set by Congress. The FCC, as the broadcast regulator, has an important role in administering the transition.
Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, speaking at a panel discussion at the show, said he understood the call for a delay.
"This program has been badly mismanaged. It's not ready for prime time," he said. "There are so many elements of the preparation that have not been undertaken ... We don't have program in place in the field to help people who need assistance in their homes. The phone banks are inadequately prepared."