Ensure that No American Is Left in the Dark by the Transition to Digital Television: Support the DTV Delay Act (S. 328)

Media 01.27.09

Recipient: U.S. House of Representatives

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, with nearly 200 member organizations, we are writing to urge your support for the DTV Delay Act (S.328), which is likely coming to the floor later today. The delay proposed in the bill, which would push back the transition to digital television until June 12, 2009, is necessary to ensure that no Americans are left in the dark, and in particular, to fix the federal coupon program created to offset the cost of this transition to consumers. LCCR believes it is critical that America leaves none of its communities and viewers behind as it transitions to digital television.

Unfortunately, LCCR’s longstanding concerns about the lack of organization, planning, and coordination of the transition have not yet been adequately addressed. On January 4, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that funding for the federal converter box coupon program had run out. NTIA is now placing hundreds of thousands of consumers on a waiting list each day, and telling consumers to either pay for converter boxes themselves, or subscribe to cable or satellite TV service.

For years, the federal government, including NTIA and FCC, should have engaged in the same kind of comprehensive planning and coordination for the nation’s digital television transition that it did for the nation’s Y2K computer transition, as recommended by the GAO in its November 2007 report on the DTV transition. These types of steps should have been taken because millions of viewers in our nation’s most vulnerable communities will be at risk of losing their lifelines to critical news and information — free, over-the-air television service.

The additional time will allow the government to adopt a plan to minimize the number of viewers who will lose TV signals. More specifically, postponement will allow the government to, as LCCR recommended last July, improve the organization of the transition; provide increased consumer outreach, education, and research; reduce costs and burdens of transition on viewers; preserve access to low-power community television stations; and prepare for rapid response to problems.

We urge you to support the DTV Delay Act and ensure that communities and consumers are not unfairly and excessively burdened by the nation’s transition to digital television. If you have any questions, please contact Nancy Zirkin at 202/263-2880 or Corrine Yu, Senior Counsel, 202/466-5670, regarding this or any issue.

Wade Henderson, President & CEO
Nancy Zirkin, Executive Vice President