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Kentucky: Hold the Remote – Congress Set to Extend Digital TV Transition

January 28, 2009

Whitesburg, KY – Congress is set to hit the remote and delay the deadline for digital TV to June 12, 2009, instead of February 17. It's something President Obama has pushed for because the $40 coupons designed to help offset the cost of digital converter boxes for older television sets, ran out before everyone who needed one received one. The Neilsen Company estimates there are thousands of people in Kentucky, and six million nationwide, who still don't have the converter boxes.

Documentary filmmaker Mimi Pickering with the nonprofit Appalshop says access to free television is not just about entertainment, it's about equal distribution of information and education.

"The people who have the older television sets tend to be lower-income, tend to be people of color, a disproportionate number of disabled and elderly."

Appalshop is an arts and media cultural center for the Appalachian region.

The extension will help because right now, according to Pickering, people are on waiting lists for the federal coupons, which are being issued on a limited basis as older unused coupons expire. And the delay gives advocates some time to work with retailers to make sure affordable converter boxes are available.

"It's a 40 dollar coupon, but a lot of the stores have marked up the price of the converters to 60, 80 dollars, on up."

Opponents of extending the deadline say it will confuse consumers and tie up airwaves that are supposed to become available to public safety agencies and wireless companies. The proposal does allow broadcasters to go entirely digital before June, if they choose. Kentuckians who use rooftop antennas or "rabbit ears" have to hook up a converter box to receive digital signals. Those who subscribe to cable or satellite TV, or have a newer TV with a built-in tuner, are not affected.

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - KY