Consumers Union • U.S. PIRG
October 19, 2005
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
When the Senate Commerce Committee considers legislation to mandate the final transition to digital television and the termination of analog broadcasting, we urge you to include provisions to fully fund a consumer compensation, education and assistance program to minimize the transition’s burden on consumers. The auction of reclaimed spectrum is expected to generate $10 billion or more, which will be more than sufficient to allow the Committee to meet its budget instructions and hold consumers harmless.
We applaud the $3 billion funding level for the consumer assistance program provided in the staff working draft, and urge you to oppose any effort to reduce that amount. Depending on further details of the consumer program, $3 billion is likely to cover the costs of the transition for many affected households. However, we urge the Committee to include language to explicitly ensure that consumers will be compensated for the cost of converter boxes and to provide for the consumer education that will be necessary to facilitate public understanding of the transition process. We also urge the committee to include language that would require the Secretary of Commerce to make the consumer assistance program a funding priority.
In addition to ensuring compensation to all consumers who will need converter boxes as a result of the government-mandated transition, the Committee should also address the unique impact the transition will have on the elderly and those who rely disproportionately on over-the-air television, such as low-income and non-English speaking families. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or disabled, may require special assistance to obtain, install and effectively use the converter boxes. The DTV transition should include a plan to deliver and install converter boxes for those consumers in need of special assistance.
According to research by Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America, four in ten households own a total of up to 80 million television sets that could require converter boxes in order to receive broadcasts after the transition. Through no fault of their own, consumers will see their otherwise fully functional television sets go dark — sets they purchased with the reasonable expectation that they would receive TV signals over their useful life. Despite the perceived benefits of digital television, most consumers have been slow to demand and adopt the technology. If Congress, rather than the marketplace, sets the pace of the transition, it should compensate consumers for the unnecessary costs and inconvenience that decision imposes on them.
Moreover, full funding for a comprehensive consumer compensation, education and assistance program is essential to ensure adherence to any final transition date set by the Committee. Without such a program, consumers will lack the resources, information, and knowledge required to prepare for the DTV transition. This will only perpetuate the single, most significant barrier to the digital transition to date — lack of consumer demand for and adoption of digital technologies.
In order to ensure a smooth and successful transition to DTV, we urge your support for a $3 billion funding level for consumer compensation and assistance as well as for amendments that ensure the program receives priority under the Digital Transition and Public Safety Fund, and provides for both consumer education and assistance to vulnerable populations.
Consumer Federation of America