NEW YORK—New Yorkers who have not obtained a digital converter box for their televisions could be watching blank screens in the latter days of February.
There is concern in the City Council about the upcoming conversion from analog to digital television broadcasts. In a press conference on City Hall steps on Wednesday Council Member Gail Brewer and members of the broadcasting community explained why.
Television is sometimes the sole source for critical information like national emergencies and weather information for thousands of New Yorkers. Many are not connected to the Internet, do not have access to a phone, and many do not speak English.
For many New Yorkers, especially in ethnic communities, the $40-$80 price tag on a digital television converter box is simply too much. “Many people have come into my office with $15 and a problem if it costs more” said Brewer.
“We were warned earlier that there was a very good possibility that the Department of Commerce had not put aside enough money to fund the $40 coupons that consumers could get to buy digital converter boxes,” said Chuck Bell, the programs director for Consumers Union.
“We’re here today to say that we were very surprised because the federal government broke a promise to people,” said Brewer. “Forty dollars to a lot of people is the difference between having the television and not having the television.”
There is a program in place in which $40 coupons are given away to people who could not afford to buy the converter boxes, but it ran out of funds six weeks before the transition. “I must admit I thought it was a mistake,” said Brewer, “And everybody calling today, as in now until the end of the year ’08, will be put on a waiting list.”
According to a press release issued by Consumers Union, the federal government is making $19 billion from the sale of the old analog frequencies to wireless broadband companies.
“We’re very concerned that many consumers across the country have not even got the word that this conversion is happening,” said Bell. “In this economic climate, there’s no reason that consumers should be asked to dig deeper in their pockets to pay these expenses.”
In a letter to Edward Markley, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Joe Kelsey (Policy Analyst for Consumers Union) put the government’s efforts into context. Kelsey mentioned that the government had announced $8.4 million in grants to 12 grassroots groups for bottom-level public education about the transition. He then stated that the United Kingdom is spending nearly $400 million to educate a population one-fifth the size of the U.S.
According to their Web site, Consumers Union is an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.