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Consumers Union Asks Congress to Delay DTV Transition

January 8, 2009

By Jennifer Hull

With 39 days to go before the nation's television stations begin broadcasting exclusively in digital, the Consumers Union – publisher of "Consumer Reports" magazine - is urging Congress to delay the February 17 transition from analog to digital TV broadcasts.

Government DTV Converter Box Coupon Program Out of Money

In a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), charman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the Consumer’s Union cites the fact that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees the government program to subsidize the cost of analog to digital TV converter boxes, has run out of money; a fact which may affect thousands of consumers who will be placed on a waiting list for converter box coupons.

Additional Concerns for Consumers after DTV Transition

Additionally, the Consumers Union is concerned that the FCC’s national call center may not be able to handle an expected flood of phone calls immediately following the transition in February, particularly from the most at-risk populations in the transition: elderly, rural, and low-income consumers.

Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for Consumers Union, said, "The federal government is getting $19 billion from selling the analog TV spectrum, while people with analog TVs have to go out and spend their own money for a converter box. Everyone affected by the digital switch should be able to get their $40 coupons. Congress needs to consider delaying the transition until these problems are fixed."

DTV Transition Will Free Up Wireless Spectrum

The federal government mandated the digital TV switch to free up more room in the wireless spectrum in the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005. The government auctioned off the old analog frequencies to wireless broadband companies for $19 billion to be used for first responders as well as advanced wireless services such as third- and fourth-generation wireless broadband.

Consumers who use “rabbit ear” aerials or rooftop antennas must upgrade their TVs for digital reception. The simplest upgrade is a converter box, which generally costs between $40 and $80. To help offset the cost, the government offered $40 coupons, but the program has run out of funds six weeks before the transition.