House Subcommittee hearing on Digital TV Transition

June 12, 2008 by  
Filed under The Big Switch

DTV transition concerns were aired at a House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, June 10, 2008. The hearing, The Status of the DTV Transition: 252 Days & Counting, was chaired by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI). During the hearing the progress of the DTV transition, consumer awareness, and the DTV converter coupon program were discussed.

NTIA’s consumer education campaign was discussed at length. The campaign focuses on educating those who receive over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts on analog television sets about the February 17th, 2009 digital transition and the DTV Coupon Program. There is a special emphasis on vulnerable audiences, such as over-the-air senior, minority, disabled, low-income and rural households who are at a greater risk of losing all television service as a result of the digital transition. Based on the GAO Report – Digital Television Transition, Mark L. Goldstein testified that 45 percent of those households at risk, plan inadequate or no action to prepare for the transition, and only 1/3 of those planning to purchase a converter box using a coupon know how to obtain the coupons.

The NTIA is working with community partners and organizations such as, AARP, the NAACP, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Catholic Charities USA, Community Action Partnership, Goodwill Industries, National Congress of American Indians, and the National Grange to reach households at greatest risk of losing TV service. Other recent improvements to the program allow coupons to be sent to P.O. boxes and senior care facilities.

The DTV Converter Box coupons can be applied for in one of seven languages at the DTV Coupon website, or by calling the Coupon Program 24-hour hotline 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009) which can accommodate requests in 150 languages. Deaf, or hard of hearing callers may dial 1-877-530-2634 (English/TTY) or 1-866-495-1161 (Spanish/TTY). TTY Service is available from 9 AM - 9 PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday.

The coupon program has been criticized for issuing vouchers that expire within 90 days, without opportunity for replacement or renewal. Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) noted in his opening remarks, "of the approximately 840,000 coupons that have thus far reached their 90-day expiration date, roughly 42 percent of those coupons were redeemed." According to Dr. Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, Associate Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), only 42 percent of the coupons mailed out were redeemed before their expiration.

As of June 3, 2008, there are 1819 participating retailers in the Coupon Eligible Convert Box Program (CECB), including seven of the largest consumer electronics retailers such as, Best Buy, Circuit City, Kmart, Radio Shack, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart, as well as hundreds of regional retail chains and smaller retailers. These retailers represent 19,440 participating outlets nationwide, including locations in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, consumers can choose from among 19 online retailers and 7 phone retailers.

The NTIA issued a statement after the hearing stating that it has no plans to ask Congress for any additional funds for the DTV transition.