Seattle Mayor, City Council urge retailers to provide options for a no-cost DTV conversion

by Reclaim the Media

Two weeks after a federal Digital TV coupon program effectively ran out of cash, elected officials in Seattle are asking retailers to do their part to help local consumers prepare for the upcoming Digital TV transition (currently scheduled for Feb. 17). Mayor Greg Nickels wrote to local electronics retailers asking them to carry DTV converter boxes at the low cost of $40-$45 (view letter here). All nine members of the City Council have following up with a similar letter.

The digital converter boxes provide consumers with the cheapest option for dealing with the DTV switch, allowing over-the-air viewers to continue tuning in local stations without having to buy a new television. Most Seattle-area electronics retailers are charging $60 and up for the boxes, despite the fact that box models are available online and in some retail outlets outside Seattle costing just $40. That low price, currently unavailable in Seattle stores, would provide a no-cost conversion option to consumers equipped with a $40 coupon obtained through the federal program.

The letters sent by Mayor Nickels and the City Council read in part:

The city is concerned that [local retailers' refusal to carry low-cost boxes] will cause an economic hardship for many lower-income households and individuals, including elders and people with disabilities. Therefore, we call upon local retailers to offer for sale at least one DTV converter box model, equipped with closed captioning and analog pass-through capabilities, in the $40-$45 price range.

For many viewers, TV is a basic necessity, not a luxury--providing local news, weather and emergency broadcast information which nobody in our community should be without. We strongly encourage local retailers to do the right thing in this matter.

"The cost of these converter boxes is a burden for low-income people, who are also the most dependent on over-the-air TV," said Jonathan Lawson, director of the media justice organization Reclaim the Media. "Problems with the federal coupon program are making the boxes even more expensive. Retailers ought to provide the entire range of consumer choice. The $40 boxes are out there. Why aren't they on the shelves of stores in Seattle?"

The DTV converter box coupon program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), effectively ran out of money after a swell of interest over the holidays. Consumers applying for free $40 coupons are now being placed on a waiting list currently numbering over 2.5 million. Congress is considering proposals to replenish funds for the coupon program, along with an Obama-backed proposal to delay the transition date until late spring.

In order to provide information and assistance to local residents struggling with the digital TV transition, local nonprofit groups are setting up a Seattle DTV Assistance Center. Information and resources on the DTV transition are available now on the web at Beginning February 1, the center will activate a DTV assistance telephone hotline at 206.508.1277. The Seattle DTV Assistance Centers are a project of Reclaim the Media in partnership with the Youth Media Institute, Youngstown Cultural Center, Para Los Ninos, the Leadership Academy, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund.

Seattle/Tacoma retailers selling DTV converters and participating in the coupon program:

Best Buy
Circuit City
Fred Meyer
Fry's Electronics
Magnolia Audio Video
Office Depot
Radio Shack
Rite-Aid Pharmacy
Your Wireless Store

article originally published at .

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