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Durbin sounds consumer alarm on upcoming digital TV transfer. "Some American households remain unaware or unprepared for the digital transition.”

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WASHINGTON-- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) longtime consumer advocate--safe toys, safe food, airplane smoking bans--takes on a new cause, how poorly prepared the federal government is to help people make the mandated switch to digital television sets next year.

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July 11, 2008

DURBIN ASKS FCC FOR INFORMATION REGARDING DIGITAL TELEVISION TRANSITION

Many Households Still Unaware of Upcoming Change

[WASHINGTON, DC] – United States Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter to the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), asking him for regular updates to the agency’s plans on ensuring the American public is prepared for the transition from analog to digital television (DTV) next year.

“On February 18, 2009, all full-power television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting in analog and start broadcasting only in digital,” Durbin wrote. “The transition to DTV will provide improved picture and sound for consumers and make more broadcast spectrum available for wireless broadband or public safety communications. Unfortunately, some American households remain unaware or unprepared for the digital transition.”

It is estimated that more than 2 million households, including 700,000 in Illinois, rely solely on over-the-air television broadcasts. Many of those households are low-income, elderly, non-English speaking or are in rural areas. As a result, these households are more likely to be unaware of the transition or have an incomplete understanding of the change.

In addition, a government sponsored coupon program which will help to cover a portion of the cost a converter box, has not been as effective as hoped. Of 17 million coupons mailed, only 4.4 million have been redeemed and nearly one-tenth have expired. The lack of response to the coupon program highlights concerns that households are either not receiving or not understanding the implications of next February’s transition.

Senator Durbin is the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government – the subcommittee which oversees the budget of the FCC. Just this week, Durbin approved an FCC request to use $12 million in prior year funds for DTV public education and consumer outreach. In addition, Durbin also recommended $20 million for the Commission in Fiscal Year 2009 to continue these activities.

A copy of today’s letter can be found below.


July 11, 2008

The Honorable Kevin J. Martin
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Martin:

Thank you for your letter dated June 16, 2008 on the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to educate consumers about the transition to digital television (DTV). I look forward to regular updates on the Commission’s progress in this area

On February 18, 2009, all full-power television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting in analog and start broadcasting only in digital. Households with analog sets will no longer be able to receive service unless they purchase a converter box, obtain a television set with digital capabilities, or subscribe to a cable or satellite service.

Unfortunately, some American households remain unaware or unprepared for the digital transition. As many as 21 million households, including over 700,000 in Illinois, rely solely on over-the-air television broadcasts. Many of them are low-income, elderly, disabled, non-English speaking, minority, or rural. These households are more likely to be unaware or have an incorrect or incomplete understanding of the transition.

Not all consumers are aware of the government coupon program that helps offset the cost of a converter box. Of the 17 million coupons that have been mailed, only 4.4 million have been redeemed, and nearly a tenth have already expired and cannot be renewed or replaced. Not all retailers have begun selling converter boxes and only a few enable the coupons to be used for online purchases.

Meanwhile, an April 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that some broadcast stations still need to build antenna towers, finance transition costs, or relocate their digital channels, although most have made substantial progress in transitioning to digital television. Some stations also intend to stop broadcasting in analog before the transition date, raising concerns about whether consumers are educated about the decisions of their local broadcasters.

The Senate Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee recently approved the Commission’s request to use $12 million in prior year funds for DTV public education and consumer outreach. The Subcommittee is also recommending $20 million for the Commission in Fiscal Year 2009 to continue these activities. Please keep the Committee regularly apprised on how the Commission is using current funds to raise awareness and dispel misinformation about the DTV transition, especially among households with analog sets.

The transition to DTV will provide improved picture and sound for consumers and make more broadcast spectrum available for wireless broadband or public safety communications. I look forward to learning about the Commission’s efforts to reap these benefits while minimizing the disruption to American households.

Sincerely,


Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

2 Comments

ONE OF ILLINOIS FINEST POLITICIANS!

i have every intention of "going black" in february 2009.

as far as i am concerned, the television industry and the government can go stuff themselves.

i certainly understand that this change is not simply occurring so that we can all get "a better picture," but has something to do with transmission frequencies that the government wants/needs and that the change tightens the range of television broadcast transmissions.

that being said, the implementation is outrageously unfair to individuals.

i bought a new television set (27" color) in september 2005 when the picture tube in my 10-year-old television set failed. in december 2005 "the senate approve[d] the Budget Reconciliation conference report which included the Digital Transition title." (http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=9b6d684a-5a8f-40db-8360-044564a15a7a&Month=12&Year=2005).

right there we have a problem.

the television i bought in 2005 SHOULD have been perfectly swell until AT LEAST 2015, given that i have never had a television fail sooner than ten years.

the federal government, as the great unwashed have long come to expect, concerned itself with its needs and wants, corporate needs and wants but not so much with the needs, much less the wants, of the public who, oh, just so unimportantly, happen to own the airwaves through which those television transmissions pass.

the united states congress voted in 2005 to turn my 2005 purchase into garbage, as of february 2009. because the hardware necessary did not come standard on the average, or even many, television sets in 2005.

now, obviously the most sensible thing would have been to put the transition date farther out in an effort to mitigate the financial hardship of replacing that many television sets (not to mention the landfill/disposal/environmental issues this mess will inevitably create). certainly an add-on box is a somewhat reasonable solution, but requiring me to pay any amount of money for a box which has no life-time guarantee no matter what over the life of the television for which it is needed is completely outrageous.

big deal, i get a coupon to for a discount on the box. now i have to balance a box on top of my television set. i thought i got rid of that unsightly problem when i cancelled my cable service in 2004.

i don't have anywhere near a guarantee that's worth spit that the box will work for any length of time, certainly not ten years, not five. but regardless of the length of time, a broken box means no television. unless one buys another box, because even if you attempt to get the box repaired that takes time, likely weeks, possibly months.

so one buys another box. will that box be subsidized? how about if the box breaks six years from now? will the box still be subsidized?

and even if you just ignore the issue of the longevity issues of boxes, you're having to attach an additional piece of hardware to your television. it uses electricity. granted, not a lot of electricity but at a time when i am paring down every "excess" expense i can in order to meet accelerating costs (including keeping my house at 62 degrees this past winter; i don't know how i'm going to cut back on heat further next winter but i'll have to because the unit cost is going to be at least 50% higher, more likely double) what was once "just pennies a month," added to all the other things that are "just pennies a month" that you cannot unplug like an alarm clock, telephone, stove or refrigerator, it starts to become significant.

i personally watch broadcast television because given the extraordinarily poor quality of television news, at least with broadcast i get my money's worth -- it's free, whereas cable or satellite is $50/month, which i couldn't afford even if the state of journalism was wildly better.

i could solve the problem of having to deal with a box by paying $50/month for cable or satellite service but, doing the math, it's cheaper to buy a new television set (2009-2015 = 6 yrs = 72 months x $50 = $3600; cost of new television: $400-$500). but the problem with that solution is that i do not have now and likely will not have by or before february 2009 the $400-$500 to buy a new television. and i know i'm not going to have an "extra" $3600 during the 2009-2015 expected life of my current television to pay for cable/satellite service, and the costs will only increase every month the set lasts.

so, when you think about it, this is an unfunded mandate which has been forced on every single household in this country.

personally, i'm so irritated by the entire circle jerk of government and the television industry -- the "transition" is, really, the least of their transgressions, together and separately -- that i'm actually relieved in a way that opportunities to have my intelligence assaulted will be greatly reduced by simply having no working television in my home.

don't underestimate a lot of other people sharing my opinion. i don't know about everywhere, but there have been public service announcements about the transition, ad nauseam, each one affecting me like fingernails on a chalk board, each one another reminder of how incompetent our government and mendacious the business interests really are.

if congress had accepted responsibility for the short time line, or made it much longer to allow saturation of the appropriate technology before the transition, and set aside funds it is wasting on printing 17 million coupons for the estimated 2 million households who rely solely on over-the-air-broadcast, 1.7 million of which have already expired, over a year before the transition date, and which are now garbage (do the math on what that piece of brilliance cost the taxpayers) and "subsidizing" boxes, they could just give a box to each household that wants one. but that would have required that congress have considered the not insificant financial ramifications to the ultimate consumers of and, don't forget, owners of airwaves which the government charges broadcasters and others to use.

why am i being required to spend money to receive over-the-air-broadcast again? oh, that's right. because the government didn't think the impact on the public was a relevant consideration when they and the corporate interests were considering how best to serve themselves.

thanks, senator durbin, but it's a case of too little too late at this point to correct this so that it does not wind up costing the public even more money than the house and senate thought back in 2005, and we know how much thought they gave it -- again, not enough for it to have been a relevant consideration in the grand scheme.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on July 11, 2008 8:32 PM.

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