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November 2, 2005
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Consumers Union strongly opposes an amendment to be offered today by Senator Ensign that would dramatically cut funding for the consumer assistance program provided in Title III of the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act. The program compensates consumers for some of the costs they will be forced to bear in order to facilitate the digital transition and the $10 billion in spectrum auction revenue generated by the Title.
In a recent column that appeared in the Baltimore Sun that emphasizes the burdens the digital transition places on ordinary consumers, including elderly, low-income and minority households. The column points out that any consumer with a TV that relies on over-the-air television will have to open their wallets to keep those sets working.
According to our research, four in ten households own up to 80 million perfectly good television sets that will be rendered inoperable by the transition unless they spend $50 or more per set for digital-to-analog converter boxes. These costs are a direct result of the spectrum auctions required in the budget reconciliation bill.
It is therefore appropriate that $3 billion of the $10 billion or more that those spectrum auctions raise be allocated to compensate consumers for their costs in facilitating the transition. That funding level provided for the consumer assistance program in Title III would cover many, though not all, of the households affected while still meeting reconciliation targets. Senator Ensign’s amendment would cut funding so dramatically that the program would cover, at best, just one-quarter of the televisions that will go black after the transition.
We urge you to vote no on the Ensign amendment and to support the Commerce Committee-approved consumer compensation funding level.
Senior Policy Analyst