The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Civil Rights Monitor
On the Hill
- The Year in Judicial and Executive Nominations
- D.C. Voting Rights: Closer than Ever
- Hate Crimes Bill Moves through Congress
- Fighting to Preserve and Restore Workers' Rights
- The Immigration Reform Debate Continues
- Congress Begins Addressing Subprime Mortgage Fallout
- Successes and Setbacks on ENDA
- Backlash against the REAL ID Act Grows
In the Courts
In the States
- Civil Rights Enforcement Takes Center Stage
- Leadership Conference Steps Up Anti-Poverty Efforts
- New Civil Rights Partnership Calls Attention to Nation's High School Crisis
- Why Americans Should Care about the Great Switch to DTV
- President Clinton, John Hope Franklin, and Tammy Duckworth Are 2007 Hubert H. Humphrey Honorees
Why Americans Should Care about the Great Switch to DTV
February 17, 2009 marks the date of the next phase of television.
On that day, American television stations will switch their broadcasting from analog to digital. Approximately 21 million Americans will lose their television signal unless their television sets are connected to cable or satellite, have a built-in digital tuner, or are connected to a digital converter box.
Congress mandated the conversion to all-digital television broadcasting, also known as the digital television (DTV) transition, because digital is a more efficient way to broadcast. The transition will also free up the airwaves for other services, including public safety, such as police, fire, and emergency rescue. DTV also provides clearer pictures, better sound quality, and more channels and programming options.
Making the transition to digital is not simply a matter of being able to watch wrestling, or American Idol, or reruns of Friends. At stake in the transition to digital television is the ability of the nation's most vulnerable populations -- low-income households, minorities, seniors, and persons with disabilities -- to maintain uninterrupted access to their key source of news and information and emergency warnings: free, over-the-air television. The transition from analog to digital could affect millions of Americans:
- In 2005, the GAO found that up to 19 percent, or roughly 21 million American households, rely exclusively on over-the-air, free television.
- Forty-eight percent of households that rely solely on over-the-air television have incomes under $30,000.
- Non-white and Hispanic households are more likely to rely on over-the-air television than are white and non-Hispanic households.
- Eight million of the 21 million over-the-air households include at least one person over 50 years of age, while an estimated one-third or more of over-the-air television viewers have disabilities.
After the DTV transition, Americans who rely on free, over-the-air TV will face an expensive choice if they wish to continue to receive a television signal:
- Beginning in early 2008, consumers will be able to purchase a DTV converter box that enables continued broadcast television reception on an analog TV set. At about the same time, the federal government will launch a program through which consumers can obtain $40 coupons toward the purchase of these boxes.
- Purchase a new television set with a built-in digital tuner. All TVs with a digital tuner are able to receive digital signals broadcast by television stations.
- Subscribe to cable, satellite or a telephone company video service provider to continue using analog TV sets.
The millions of Americans who don't currently get cable or satellite television or own digital TVs are a very mixed group, cutting across all segments of society. For this reason, the government has created a "Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program" allocating $990 million for all U.S. households (but including cable and satellite customers) to receive up to two $40 coupons to purchase up to two digital-to-analog converter boxes.
Once that money runs out, if the government requests the additional $510 million already authorized by Congress, then households that certify in writing they rely on over-the-air reception will be eligible for coupons. Civil rights and consumer groups are concerned that the transition to digital TV could exacerbate an already existing digital divide if the millions of households that rely on over-the-air television lose their television service after the transition because they don't know about the switch or the coupon program, or are unable to get coupons.
Congress is conducting hearings on the DTV transition, demonstrating intent to take its oversight responsibilities seriously, which is good news for Americans. But witnesses who testified at a October 17 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet identified a number of challenges.
Nancy Zirkin, vice president and director of public policy of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), expressed concern about the level of funding appropriated to enable a smooth transition, especially for the lower income households, seniors, minorities, and persons with disabilities who are most dependent on television.
Zirkin also called attention to the need to have a comprehensive plan in place that includes research, outreach, and rapid response to ensure that those who are most at risk of losing service are protected.
Finally, Zirkin said, given the magnitude of the public education effort necessary to inform those Americans most at risk of losing their television signal, there needs to be coordination on educational outreach among all federal agencies -- not just the two agencies most responsible for managing this transition -- the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- with replication of these efforts at the state and local level.
Testifying on behalf of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Mark L. Goldstein confirmed that despite public-private sector interaction designed to help facilitate the transition, no comprehensive plan exists for the DTV transition. Goldstein echoed a key theme of Zirkin's testimony, namely, that "a challenge of consumer education is that those households that need to take action may be the least likely to be aware of the transition."
And while the transition has the potential to open the door for more Americans to participate fully in the digital age, individuals with disabilities are already being left behind, according to testimony by Claude Stout on behalf of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT).
Stout said that consumers with disabilities are reporting significant problems with DTV, including "disappearing, delayed, garbled, or otherwise unintelligible closed caption on television shows that previously provided relatively problem-free captions."
Stout and COAT also reported that networks whose analog channels were previously covered by the FCC's closed captioning mandates now deny coverage for their new high definition (HD) channels.
Both the FCC and NTIA are involved with the Digital Television Transition Coalition, a large coalition representing industry groups, grassroots and membership organizations, manufacturers, retailers, trade associations, community groups, and civil rights organizations (including LCCR). Yet while federal and private stakeholders have taken initial steps on providing consumers with information about the transition, GAO notes that these efforts are "still largely in the planning stages and widespread efforts have yet to be implemented."
With the arrival date for the future of television drawing near, a number of critical questions remain unanswered. Will all Americans be sufficiently educated about the transition, so that they will be able to make it relatively easily and without undue economic burden? Moreover, will all Americans actually receive the benefits of digital television, including HD Television and multicasting, or will they be deprived of these remarkable technological advances? At this point, millions of Americans can only stay tuned.
For more information, call 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) or 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009), or visit the following web sites:
- DTV Transition, www.dtvtransition.org;
- FCC: Countdown to Digital Television, http://www.dtv.gov/;
- NTIA: Digital Television Transition and Countdown to Public Safety, http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/index.html.
The Civil Rights Monitor is an annual publication that reports on civil rights issues pending before the three branches of government. The Monitor also provides a historical context within which to assess current civil rights issues. Previous issues of the Monitor are available online. Browse or search the archives