National Translator Association pushes campaign for digital conversion grant extension

The National Translator Association (NTA) has launched an effort to get its members to contact Congress, the Obama administration and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to urge them to extend the end date of a grant program set up to help rural translator and LPTV operators pay for their conversion to DTV transmission.

The association, which opened its annual convention in Albuquerque, NM, yesterday, has put out an urgent call to members to act so that more than $22 million dollars in the fund doesn't vanish. The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Association is due to end the program in less than eight weeks.

"All we want is one paragraph tacked onto some legislation to extend the program till the end of 2015, which is the FCC deadline for the conversion plus three months for processing," said NTA president Byron St. Clair. Without the extension, as many as 1000 translators around the country could be lost and more than a million viewers affected, he added.

On the surface, it might seem that with so much at risk translator operators would have long ago applied to the NTIA for the funds. However, many translators fall under the purview of county officials with many diverse responsibilities, said St. Clair. In many instances, the need to convert their community's television translator to digital was "one of a million things the country commissioner has to deal with," he said.

Another reason for inaction is the complexity of the funding and reimbursement process. "Some didn't understand they could get the equipment sent to them and then the reimbursement," he added.

The NTA officially kicked off the campaign members attending its annual convention, which ends May 19. According to St. Clair, the association has chosen the grassroots strategy because NTA is a volunteer-based organization and does not have the funding for a professional Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist.

Even before the convention opened, one NTA member has gotten the word out about the need for an extension to a member of Congress who had returned home for a visit to his district. During a trip to a grocery store the translator operator and congressman crossed paths creating an opportunity for the NTA member to raise the issue, said St. Clair.

The NTA president, who is hoping to see these sorts of encounters move beyond coincidental meetings, said he has been "extremely disappointed" by the lack of response the association has received from the office of Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, on an extension.

"We can't understand why we are having such a hard time, especially since there are so many translators (estimated at 200) in his district," said St. Clair.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.