Consumers Union, LCCR Urge Passage Of DTV Date-Delay Bill

Consumers Union and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) held a conference call with reporters Tuesday to push for passage of the DTV date-delay bill and for a concerted effort to help those still needing information and assistance to make the DTV transition.

The bill moves the DTV transition hard date from Feb. 17 to June 12, though stations are free to cut off analog earlier.

Consumers Union was effectively the vanguard in asking for the date move, sending a letter to Congress after consultation with then President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, which was followed soon after by the official request for the change by transition team co-chair John Podesta.

Joel Kelsey of Consumers Union said that moving the date will be complicated and likely will be making the best of what is already a bad situation. The government ran out of money for its converter box subsidy program, and it would now be irresponsible for the government to put the burden of its miscalculation on mostly rural, elderly and low income folks, he said.

Moving the program, he said, would give the government time, or at least more time, to fully fund the program, and allow consumers who might have let their coupons expire go when there were fewer choices among more expensive converter boxes to reapply for coupons so they could get cheaper boxes with more functions.

"This isn't something consumers asked for, and now they are being asked to pay for it," he said.

Moving the date will provide more time for educating consumers, the groups said, and helping them with setting up boxes or antennas.

Some stations aren't planning to take the government up on its delay of the hard date (Consumers Union and LCCR estimate about 300 stations), so the groups said they were urging consumers to act now. "Because there will be some markets that will be making the transition to digital [Feb. 17]," said Mark Lloyd of LCCR, we are urging folks to act as if this will occur on Feb. 17, we also realize that even after that date, with or without the delay, there will be a number of
consumers who were not ready who will need immediate, rapid response assistance."

The House is expected Wednesday to pass the bill to move the date. The Senate has already passed it and the president has said he plans to sign it.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.