While urging local viewers to plan ahead for the DTV transition,
public interest groups and elected officials ask local retailers to do their part
On April 17, Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin and Energy, Technology and Commerce Committee chair Bruce Harrell joined community groups to remind local residents that the time is now to get prepared for the June 12 DTV transition, by applying for converter box coupons, and installing and testing new equipment if needed. Councilmembers also repeated their call, first made earlier this year, for local retailers to do their part for a socially responsible DTV transition, by providing a no-cost converter box option for consumers redeeming $40 coupons distributed by the federal government.
"In the current economy, nobody should be faced with economic hardship just to maintain their access to local TV news and emergency information," said Conlin. "Free TV is an essential service for many households, not an optional expense."
Public interest group Reclaim the Media is spearheading the local effort as part of a multi-city campaign for a Socially Responsible DTV Transition, coordinated with other members of the Media Action Grassroots Network and the Consumers Union. The campaign is asking electronics retailers to pledge to stock and sell at least one $40 DTV converter box; several models are available through online retailers at that price, matching the value of coupons distributed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). However, walk-in retailers have largely ignored calls to stock the boxes, instead offering only more expensive models ranging from $50-$200 in price.
Late in January, Mayor Nickels and the entire City Council sent letters to local retailers, writing that the unavailability of $40 boxes "will cause an economic hardship for many lower-income households and individuals, including seniors and people with disabilities... In many cases, TV is a basic necessity, not a luxury—providing local news, weather and emergency broadcast information which nobody in our community should be without. We strongly encourage our local retailers to do the right thing in this matter."
In the Seattle area, Fred Meyer stores have pledged to offer a $40 converter box option as a special promotion, on at least one occasion between now and June 12; company officials said that details will be advertised in local newspapers. To date, no other local retailers have taken the Socially Responsible Retailer pledge.
Reclaim the Media says that the costs associated with the transition—often including a new antenna as well as a converter box—could leave millions of US residents in the dark, including seniors, those with mobility issues, communities of color and low-income families.
“The DTV transition should be more than business as usual,” says Jonathan Lawson, Reclaim the Media executive director. “Like it or not, local TV is still the primary news source for millions of Americans. Retailers participating in the government coupon program have a social responsibility to offer low-cost options for consumers who rely on TV for daily information.”
Other local partners in the Socially Responsible DTV Transition campaign include the Youth Media Institute, the Leadership Academy, the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, and the Seattle Housing Authority. The Media Action Grassroots Network is a national initiative linking media justice organizing hubs in eight regions: Seattle, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Albuquerque, New York, San Antonio, Philadelphia and Appalachia.
Several Seattle groups are hosting Seattle DTV Assistance Centers, partnering with the national Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to provide DTV assistance to low-income residents, people of color, immigrants, seniors and people with disabilities. Drop-in centers are located at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center (4408 Delridge Way SW), at the Leadership Academy (425 SW 144th St, Burien), and at rotating locations around Seattle. Volunteer telephone support is available at (206) 508-1277, or (206) 988-3760 for Spanish speakers. Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese language support is available from the National Asian Pacific Council on Aging, at (800) 336-2722. Seattle DTV Assistance Center information is on the web at www.seattledtv.com.
Today, in cities across the country people are standing up and saying they will not sit silently as their connection with the world is cut off.
On June 12th the airwaves that give us television will switch from analog to digital. And even though there is a subsidy program for the switch, offering $40 coupons for digital television (DTV) converter boxes, many people will still be left behind. Most retailers across the country only offer DTV converter boxes for prices much higher than what the coupon will cover, meaning that as concerned viewers get to the store they will turn around and leave the converter box as an unnecessary purchase.
Here steps in MAG-Net, a national coalition of grassroots media organizations that MMP is a part of, pushing to make sure retailers offer a no-cost box for consumers.
Right here in Philadelphia our own Hannah Sassaman is talking up the transition. "I've lived in Philadelphia for over twelve years -- without cable. For much of that I didn't have internet access at home, either. Like thousands of my neighbors, if I wanted local news and weather, I turned to my broadcast TV... and with all TV stations going digital in June, now is the time to make sure that every Philadelphian gets a box they can afford."