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Switch To DTV “Unlikely to be Free” for Many

June 8, 2009

New York, NY — This week, TV goes digital, and despite those coupons from congress it appears the transition will come at a cost for many viewers. Television can be a lifeline for news and emergency information, especially for seniors, immigrants, people with disabilities and low-income families, and there is concern the transition will leave some in the dark.

Joshua Breitbart, policy director at People's Production House in New York, has been checking prices, and he says the 40 dollar coupons issued by the government will not cover the cost of the digital converter boxes at most stores. Breitbart says people who don't have the new boxes will see their old analogue TVs go blank at the end of the week.

"What we've seen in New York is that the retailers have basically picked one model box, usually in the 60-65 dollar range, and they've sold just that box. You know, the retailers approached this as a marketing opportunity, not as a public service."

Jonathan Lawson, with the organization 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 old TVs with the rabbit-ears antennas are the ones who are least likely to know about the switch.

"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."

Lawson says there are inexpensive digital converter boxes available on the Web, but he says many folks with old-style TVs do not have Internet access.

Government coupons are still available. You can learn more about how to convert your TV in time for the switch at the government's digital TV Web site

Information for particular areas around the country can be found at

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY