Digital Television Transition Legislation

Media 10.25.05

Recipient: Dear Chairman Barton and Ranking Member

Dear Chairman Barton and Ranking Member Dingell:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, with more than 190 member organizations, we are writing to urge you to use the potential of the digital television transition (DTV) to open the door for more Americans to Participate fully in the digital age. LCCR believes that access to communications is a fundamental right of every American. Unfortunately, the Barton-Upton draft Digital TV Transition Act of 2005, which is being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, fails to guarantee that all families will be able to access digital television programming.

Minority and poor households rely heavily on analog television for news and information. Within four years, all TV broadcasts will be required to transition from analog to digital. The DTV transition poses a serious burden to these individuals, and without subsidies that will allow them to purchase expensive set-top boxes to use with their existing sets, the television screens of these households will go dark.

LCCR applauds the House and Senate for recognizing the need for a government compensation program to assist with the transition, given the disproportionate impact the transition will have on minority and low-income Americans. Of the 21 million
households that rely solely on analog television, nearly half have incomes below $30,000 and nearly half are Spanish-speaking.

However, the Barton-Upton proposal raises concerns for LCCR because it sets up an elaborate process that makes it likely that those most in need will be least likely to receive compensation. The draft funds vouchers for approximately 21 million TV sets
and allows two vouchers per household on a first-come, first-served basis, potentially leaving 30 million households in the dark. Because the proposal allows for online requests, those consumers who lack access to the Internet and who do not have or cannot afford cable or satellite will be least likely to receive any of the first-come, first-served, limited number of vouchers. As the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund’s (LCCREF’s) new report on the digital divide, Solving the Persistent Problem of the Digital Divide, found, regardless of income or education, blacks and Latinos are much less likely to have access to home computers and Internet access than white, non-Latinos.

LCCR urges you to pass legislation that ensures the transition to digital television serves to benefit all Americans. If you have any questions, please contact Nancy Zirkin at 202/263- 2880 or Corrine Yu, Director of Education at 202/46/0-5670, regarding this or any issue.