DTV assistance providers praise Fred Meyer, call on other retailers to offer no-cost box

On April 17, community groups and DTV Assistance Center providers in Seattle called upon retailers to take the "Socially Responsible Retailer" pledge, by agreeing to offer a $40 "no-cost box" option for local DTV consumers. Only Fred Meyer stores have taken the pledge - Company officials committed that Seattle-area Fred Meyer stores will offer $40 boxes as a special promotion, on at least one occasion before the June 12 transition.

Here are prepared statements from the event.

KRISTA WRIGHT (Reclaim the Media/Seattle DTV Assistance Center):

Good afternoon. I'm Krista Wright, and I'm a volunteer DTV assistance provider working with Reclaim the Media and the Seattle DTV Assistance Center. Reclaim the Media has been working since last fall to help local over-the-air TV viewers get ready for the upcoming transition to digital TV. We're honored to be joined today by several local and national partners in this work, including the Youth Media Institute, the Leadership Academy, the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, ARC of King County, Thee Way Out, the National Asian Pacific Council on Aging, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Federal Communications Commission, the City of Seattle, and the Seattle Housing Authority, whose Center Park low-income housing facility is one of the locations for our DTV outreach.

While the government has pushed back the digital transition date to June 12, many area viewers remain unprepared for the transition, especially low income households, seniors, immigrants, and people with disabilities. The government has rebooted its program providing free $40 coupons redeemable against the cost of a DTV converter box. The coupons are flowing, and with six weeks left before the transition date, now is the time for people to apply.

However, getting the free coupon is only one step towards DTV readiness. While several $40 converter boxes are available through online retailers, most local stores have been resistant to providing customers with this choice – instead stocking only more expensive boxes, few of which have any features lacking in the cheapest models. In response, Reclaim the Media and the Media Action Grassroots Network called upon retailers to do their part for a Socially Responsible DTV Transition. We asked retailers in eight regions across the country to pledge to offer at least one $40 box for sale at some point between now and June 12. And earlier this spring, all nine members of the Seattle City Council, and Mayor Nickels, wrote letters to local stores asking them to provide consumers with a no-cost box. To date, only one retailer has responded; I'm happy to announce that Fred Meyer stores have taken the socially responsible retailer pledge, and will be advertising at least one $40 box sale at their area stores in the weeks to come.

Today we're pleased to welcome City Council President Richard Conlin and Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chairman of the Energy, Technology and Commerce Committee, both of whom have been tuned in to the connection between communications technology and democracy. We'll also hear from Reclaim the Media executive director Jonathan Lawson, who will take questions. First, we'll hear from Ismael Cortés with the Leadership Academy in Burien.

ISMAEL CORTÉS (Leadership Academy/Seattle DTV Assistance Center):

I'm Ismael Cortés. I am working with the Leadership Academy to help Spanish speakers and others in South Seattle and Burien with the DTV transition. For many people in our community, television is a very important source for information about news and local events. Especially for those of us who don't have as much access to computers and the internet, the idea that we could lose this lifeline is simply not right. Many people who come to us for help understand that the digital TV transition is intended to improve communication, but fear that confusion about DTV could make communications much worse. Others still don't know what this transition will mean for them, and even if they do understand, some are unable to afford the switch.

In this economy, having to buy a new converter box plus a new antenna can be a hardship for many families. Even if we were lucky enough to have already received a government coupon, stores charging are $60 and up for converter boxes can still mean a total price tag of $50 or more, just to keep my access to TV. This is access that has been free in the past. That's why it's important to me that everyone should have the opportunity to get converter boxes at no cost. We didn't choose to make this switch; that choice was made for us. Now that it has been done, we must ensure that people receive these boxes completely free so that we may continue to access basic information about the world around us. It is our right. Thank you.

JONATHAN LAWSON (Executive Director, Reclaim the Media):

I'd like to thank Councilmembers Conlin and Harrell for joining us today, and would like to thank Fred Meyer stores for being the first local store to take our socially responsible retailer pledge. As the national transition date of June 12 comes closer, the Seattle DTV Assistance Centers will continue encouraging local retailers to do their part for a Socially Responsible Transition, in partnership with the Media Action Grassroots Network, the Consumers Union, and the other groups gathered here today. In the Seattle area, local DTV assistance is being provided to communities most in need by the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle, by the Leadership Academy in Burien, by Reclaim the Media at various locations. We're pleased to announce two new local assistance providers, ARC of King County and Thee Way Out. Local telephone assistance is available for households in need at 206.508.1277, or in Spanish at 206.988.3760, and on the web at www.seattledtv.com, where we're reminding everyone: people get ready - apply for your DTV converter box coupons now.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey