Digital Transition Puts Thousands At Risk For No TV

Official warns DTV converter coupon shortage could mean lost television access for many.
Thousands of New Yorkers and residents elsewhere in the country could be left in the dark when the nation switches to digital television, an elected official has warned.

New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer wrote to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Monday to say that it appears that the U.S. Congress underestimated the amount of funding needed for the TV Converter Box Program. She also criticized the NTIA for closing the coupon program suddenly and without warning.

Monday, the NTIA announced that it had run out of funds for the program and that anyone who called Sunday or later to receive a coupon for television converters would go on a waiting list.

"In particular, for citizens living on fixed incomes and who find themselves unable to pay for cable/satellite service, the full cost of a converter box and in many cases a new and costly antenna represents a particularly unjust burden," Brewer wrote. "On a broader scale, what sort of social policy disenfranchises millions of Americans with TV service by first taking away their reception of public airwaves and then imposing a significant tax on their right to access those same public airwaves, which in fact they own?"

The NTIA has already reached the limit of $1.34 billion allocated for coupons. The coupons were created to help families with analog television sets maintain access to television programs, including emergency announcements.

Brewer also criticized the NTIA for changing the deadline to apply for converter box coupons from March 31, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2008, and questioned whether it provided proper public notice about the change. She demanded to know whether citizens can still apply for coupons and whether those who relied on the March 31 deadline will be denied coupons.

She said the NTIA's actions violate both the spirit and the requirements of the congressional mandate on the switch to digital television. Finally, Brewer said that her constituents have contacted her in droves because they are worried they will lose access to television when the program takes effect in February.