Despite a public outreach effort of historic proportions, certain groups in the nation—the elderly, the poor, the rural, the non-English speaking—are still at risk of losing free TV when full-power analog broadcasting ends next February.
On the bright side, policy advocates said Monday, an ambitious ground game is hitting senior centers, Meals on Wheels and other avenues, aiming at folks who need information about the transition and help getting it done.
“Unfortunately there is a disproportionate number of underserved communities that are being impacted tremendously by the transition to digital TV,” said DeeNice Rhodes, executive director of the Urban Progressive Foundation and host of a panel discussion on the subject at the National Press Club in Washington. She said 35 million homes had some reliance on free TV and called the impending shutoff a “sleeping giant” crisis.
Among the solutions, in addition to direct government efforts: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, using a $1.65 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is opening outreach centers in seven cities, in languages including Arabic in Detroit, Spanish in San Antonio and Hmong in Minneapolis, said Mark Lloyd, LCCR vice president for strategic initiatives. (The others are Atlanta, the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, Ore., and Seattle.)
A similar grant of $2.7 million went to the National Association of Area Agencies for Aging.
Chris MacLean, executive director of the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition, said his member stores are staffed, trained, stocked and ready to sell converter boxes. MacLean would like people to buy antennas if they need them as well.
He also called on the goodwill, wealth-sharing and holiday spirit of ordinary people to help fill the gaps. Coupons can be transferred (but not sold), so folks who don’t need coupons can give extras to the needy.
Folks with technical savvy should work through their churches and communities to help those without, he said. And the holidays are a great time for buying and talking about boxes.
“Make DTV part of your table talk,” he said. “Make sure grandma’s taken care of.”
“It’s going to take everybody pitching in a little bit,” he said.
Tony Wilhelm, Consumer Education Director of the NTIA, said the agency has sent out some 21 million envelopes with 40 million coupons, of which 16.5 million have actually been used.
He did not directly say whether the NTIA has enough funding to issue coupons to everyone who wants one in the anticipated surge of requests as Feb. 17 nears. But he said some money is recycling back into the program as older coupons expire, and the NTIA gives data on its status daily to Congress.