Councilmember Bruce Harrell
SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL ADDRESSES EQUITY ISSUES OF
UPCOMING DIGITAL TV TRANSITION
SEATTLE−On January 29 at 2:00 p.m., Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, Chair of the Council’s Energy and Technology Committee, will convene a special meeting with members of the City’s Department of Information Technology, Office of Cable Communications, and the Customer Service Bureau to discuss the City’s plan for preparing citizens for the digital television transition scheduled to take place on February 17th. The meeting is part of the Council’s plan to ensure that residents who own analog-signal televisions understand that these televisions will not be equipped to receive the new digital signal on and after February 17 unless a digital converter box is installed. Analog television sets without a digital converter box will cease to function next month.
“When citizens ask for help on what to do when their TV stops working, the City needs to be ready to provide quick, personable and effective help,” said Harrell. “We already know the City will get the calls, so we’re doing everything we can now to have plans in place to help.”
It is estimated that some 6.5 million U.S. households to date are not ready for the transition. And the Federal Commerce Department has reached its $1.34 billion limit for providing $40 coupon subsidies to mitigate the cost of digital converter boxes for consumers. Members of the Seattle City Council are concerned that without these subsidies, the cost of converter boxes -- between $55 and $100 at local retailers -- could create a financial burden for lower income citizens.
To help lessen this cost impact, last week the Council distributed a letter to local electronics retailers requesting that they add to their existing inventory $40 to $45 DTV converter boxes equipped with closed captioning and analog pass-through capabilities. Councilmember Nick Licata said: “We sent out this letter to try to prevent economic hardship on citizens with tight budgets who must purchase a standard converter box.”
On Monday the U.S. Senate voted to extend the digital transition deadline to June 12, with the House expected to pass similar legislation this week. If an extension is granted, it is likely that additional funding for the $40 coupon program will be provided. Whatever the deadline, though, many citizens -- potentially some 31,000 Seattle area households -- remain unprepared for the digital transition.