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Bridging the Digital Divide for Idaho

June 8, 2009

Boise, ID – This week, as Americans tune in to a new kind of television, advocacy groups are making a last-minute push to ensure that the switch from analog to digital signals does not leave those most in need of free TV - in the dark.

Television's "digital age" starts this Friday, June 12. It's the official day for the switch to DTV, which means Idahoans who rely on free, over-the-air TV on older television sets must have a digital converter box hooked up or all they'll see is snow on the screen.

Jonathan Lawson, of the Northwest-based advocacy group Reclaim the Media, says TV stations have been doing a good job explaining that the change is near. However, the people who most depend on their older-model television sets with the "rabbit-ear" style antennas are the ones who are least likely to know about switch. Some, he adds, can't afford the change.

"Free TV is a lifeline of public safety information and local news for a lot of people. That's more true for low-income folks, for seniors and for immigrants, than it is for any other group."

Congress authorized $40 discount coupons to allow people to obtain converter boxes free or at very little cost. Lawson says there are plenty of online sites where you can get a converter box for the value of the coupon - but finding a box at a local electronics store at the coupon value is not so easy.

"The government coupons, still available for free, will provide $40 off of the cost of the box, but unfortunately, local retailers have mostly been selling boxes in the $60 to $100 range."

In the Boise area, there are several DTV information events and clinics scheduled this week. Find them online at dtv.gov/map.htm?state=ID&x=7&y=2. On the dtv.gov Web site, see details on how to hook up a converter box, or get answers to frequently asked questions, both in English and Spanish.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID