Extend the DTV Transition Until a Plan Is In Place to Minimize Viewers Who Will Lose TV Signals

Media 01.9.09

Recipient: U.S Congress

Senator John D. Rockefeller, IV
U.S. Senate
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
531 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4802

Honorable Henry Waxman
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Energy and Commerce
2204Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-0530

Dear Chairman Rockefeller and Chairman Waxman:

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 support President-elect Obama’s proposal and to urge your support for extending the upcoming digital television transition (DTV) until there is a plan in place to minimize the number of viewers who will lose TV signals. Most importantly, this plan needs to fix the flaws in 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.

We understand President-elect Obama’s concerns about the transition and are confident that you will be able to work with the new administration to ensure that communities and consumers are not unfairly and excessively burdened by the nation’s transition to digital television.

LCCR testified on multiple occasions before Congress in 2007 and 2008 on what the government-mandated transition to digital television means for the communities LCCR represents. We were concerned about the lack of organization, planning, and coordination of the transition.

Most recently, 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 onto a waiting list each day, and telling consumers to either pay for converter boxes themselves, or subscribe to cable or satellite TV service.

Last July, the Leadership Conference offered several recommendations that, if adopted, would significantly increase the number of viewers who will be prepared for the digital transition. These recommendations included: improving the organization of the transition; providing increased consumer outreach, education and research; reducing costs and burdens of transition on viewers; preserving access to low-power community television stations; and preparing for rapid response to problems.

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 those communities—free, over-the-air television service.

We thank you for considering our views, and look forward to working with you on the transition. 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