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Congress: Consider delay of digital TV transition

January 7, 2009

Consumers Union Asks Congress to Consider Delay of Digital TV Transition After Federal Coupon Program Runs Out of Money

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, today said Congress should consider delaying the February 17 transition from analog to digital TV broadcasts.
In letters to members of Congress, President Bush, and President-elect Obama, Consumers Union pointed to the fact that the government program that subsidizes crucial TV converter boxes has run out of money, and hundreds of thousands of affected consumers are now on waiting lists for coupons.
The federal government mandated the digital TV switch to free up more room in the wireless spectrum. The government auctioned off the old analog frequencies to wireless broadband companies for $19 billion. 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.
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.”
In addition to raising concerns about the coupon program, Consumers Union questioned the ability of the Federal Communications Commission’s national call center to handle the flood of calls expected before and after February 17, and it cited concerns about the amount of local assistance and public information available to at-risk consumers, particularly among elderly, rural, and low-income populations.
More information about the digital TV transition is available on the Consumer Reports web site at www.ConsumerReports.org/dtv

Media contact:
David Butler, Consumers Union, 202-462-6262
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.