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Free Digital TV Converters Promise More Than Just Re-Runs

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April 17, 2009

Minneapolis - A Minneapolis group is working to ensure the pending conversion to digital television won't put people in the dark. The Main Street Project is making digital converter boxes available at no cost to people who have federal government coupons. Most retailers offer converters that require some cost above the $40 coupon limit. Minneapolis is among eight cities holding events to help get the word out for those who haven't already made the switch.

Amalia Deloney, the Project's senior fellow, says many of the people still lacking converters are poor, disabled or don't speak English.

"It's very cost prohibitive for them to be able to afford a box and it's also challenging, because there's a lot of steps; whether it's applying for the coupon, or learning how to connect the box to your TV, or being able to go home with a box that we're calling a 'no-cost' box."

Of the eight participating cities, Minneapolis is one of only three offering boxes at no additional cost above the federal coupon. The event is part of the effort leading up to the June 11 deadline, after which many older TVs will need the converter in order to receive a broadcast signal.

Steven Renderos, project coordinator for the Minnesota Media Empowerment Project, says a TV signal is more important than its capacity to receive reality shows and sitcoms. Many people rely on local stations for important weather and emergency information, he says.

"Snow storms, tornado warnings, emergency situations. Especially in rural communities television ends up being the number-one source of information for a lot of these folks."

Supporters are gauging whether to stage additional events in other parts of the state. They're working with Blaine retailer Mosquito Productions to offer the no-cost converters.

The Minneapolis event begins at 2:00 p.m. inside the Midtown Global Market on Lake Street. Groups will make presentations in English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali. Only people with coupons will receive converter boxes at no cost. Others may apply for the coupons.

Art Hughes, Public News Service - MN