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

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 agencys 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 Februarys 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 todays 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 Commissions efforts to educate consumers about the transition to digital television (DTV). I look forward to regular updates on the Commissions 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 Commissions 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 Commissions efforts to reap these benefits while minimizing the disruption to American households.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator