TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Digital Move Will Blank up to 80 Million TV Sets

Digital Move Will Blank up to 80 Million TV Sets

Lisa Minter (
Wed, 29 Jun 2005 23:36:43 -0500

Consumer advocates on Wednesday warned that up to 80 million
television sets could go dark after a transition to digital broadcast
signals and said the government should help owners get special
converter boxes.

About 15 percent of U.S. households rely on over-the-air television
signals, and about 39 percent of households have at least one
television that is not connected to satellite or cable television
service, according to a survey by Consumers Union and the Consumer
Federation of America.

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission are trying to speed
the broadcast industry's transition from analog signals to digital
ones to free up valuable spectrum. Lawmakers are considering
legislation that would set Jan. 1, 2009, as the deadline for finishing
the switch.

"The first rule Congress must abide by is do no harm to consumers,"
said Gene Kimmelman, public policy director for Consumers Union. "We
can only support a hard date transition if the costs are not borne by
consumers who have done nothing wrong and just want their TVs to

He suggested that the government should subsidize converter boxes for
most of those television sets, potentially costing more than $3.5
billion. Industry estimates put the cost of converter boxes at about
$50 each.

The Consumer Electronics Association has projected a smaller number of
television sets -- 33.6 million -- would be affected by the switch.

"The (consumer groups') survey appears to assume that any TV not
connected to cable or satellite is connected to a broadcast antenna,"
said Michael Petricone, CEA vice president for technology policy. He
said millions of sets are used only for video games and movies.

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives put off a hearing until
later this summer to consider digital television legislation, in part
because of a dispute over a subsidy plan for aiding homes that rely
only on over-the-air broadcasts.

Most expect a subsidy program would be funded with the proceeds of
auctioning off the old analog broadcast airwaves.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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