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Those Not Ready for DTV Switch in PA, May Be Those Who Can Least Afford It

June 10, 2009

Television officially enters a new age, the digital age, in just two days. This means Pennsylvanians accustomed to watching free, over-the-air programs on older television sets will need to have a digital converter box hooked up to their TV - or all they'll see is snow on the screen.

Some groups are working, not only to ensure a smooth changeover, but to preserve free access to information over the airwaves. Jonathan Lawson, executive director of the advocacy group Reclaim the Media, says television stations in Pennsylvania have been doing a good job explaining that the change is near. However, folks who depend on older-model sets with the "rabbit-ear" style antennas are also the viewers least likely to know about the 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. And that's more true for low-income folks, for seniors and for immigrants, than it is for any other group."

Congress authorized $40 coupons for purchasing the digital converter boxes, Lawson explains, in an effort to keep television access free, even after the conversion. Today, there are plenty of online sites where you can get a converter box for the $40 coupon value - but some people with older sets don't have Internet access, and Lawson says 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 the cost of the box - but, unfortunately, local retailers have mostly been selling boxes in the $60 to $100 range."

For those who have Internet access, there is plenty of information available about how to get ready for the DTV switch, at dtv.gov, or at www.dtvsupport.fcc.gov.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA