The Digital Television Fiasco - August 6, 2008

The FCC has mandated that American television stations stop broadcasting analog signals and convert to digital signals by February 2009.

To facilitate this, the government is purportedly issuing up to two $40 coupons per household for "converter boxes". As with all government programs, there are numerous difficulties and inequities with the coupon program:

1) The agency responsible for distribution is failing to mail out coupons, and refuses to replace coupons "lost in the mails" or not delivered for any other reason, even though they can easily verify (by the encoded serial numbers) whether or not the coupon has been used.

2) There is a 90-day expiration date (from the date purportedly mailed) on the coupon, which is insufficient time to find a "converter box" as few stores stock them, and they are often sold out where they are stocked Furthermore, not all boxes work in all locations. The only way to find a box that works is by extensive and expensive trial-and-error. But the coupon can only be used once. You can return a defective box for for exchange at the same store, but if the store doesn't have a box that works in your location, you are out of luck.

3) The $40 coupon still leaves (at least) a $15 price for the "converter boxes" which places an unfair burden on lower-income citizens.

4) The available "free" converter boxes take up space, create a rats nest of cables and power cords, and do not provide all the functionality of the television controls they replace. For example, some of them lack channel recall, a feature we have already paid for with our existing television sets.

5) It is beyond the capability of many people to properly install and use the "converter boxes". If they cannot find someone to help them voluntarily, they will be forced to pay for some opportunist to perform this task.

6) DIGITAL SIGNALS CANNOT BE RECEIVED IN MANY LOCATIONS WHERE THERE WAS NO TROUBLE RECEIVING AN ANALOG SIGNAL! For example, we can receive more than 15 stations with the current analog system, but we can only receive 2 obscure digital stations (at least with the "free" converter boxes). Another brand picked up 5 stations, but not the ones we watch -- and the other brand is not available at the store where we bought the one that didn't, and where we used our "free" coupon for worthless merchandise.

This leaves many U.S. citizens with few choices:

1) We can replace our existing (outdoor) antennae with a very expensive "more powerful" antennae, and hope it works. If it doesn't we are out $200-400, as antennas cannot usually be returned for refund unless defective.  

2) We can subscribe to ridiculously expensive and insufficiently regulated satellite television services, and pay $50-100 per month for what has been free for the past 50 years (plus a variety of new stations for which we have no use or desire).  

3) We can do without television after February of 2009, which will isolate us from entertainment, news, and emergency warning services!

This is unacceptable. The FCC's decision has placed an unfair burden on the poor and low-income citizens of this country, as well as those who live in areas not properly serviced by digital television. The changeover MUST be postponed until such time as these problems are properly addressed! Congress must act to  force the FCC to consider the needs of ALL the country's citizens, not just the privileged few who can afford the latest and greatest innovations.    

Please write your Congressman today!