By Cheryl Heppner
On February 17, 2009, analog television will be cut off and television in the U.S. will go totally digital. If you watch television as a cable or satellite user, you will be able to get the conversion to digital from your cable or satellite provider. If you are in one of the estimated 14.86% of U.S. households that still watch television over-the-air by antenna, you will need to purchase an analog-to-digital converter box.
Helping with Digital TV Transition
In September 2006, NVRC sent out an Action Alert to notify our readers that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) had been given $890 million by Congress. It was to be spent for $40 coupons to help pay for these analog-to-digital converter boxes. Congress had also authorized the NTIA to spend up to $1.5 billion more if needed. These amounts later were changed.
I worked with a coalition of national consumer organizations to send comments to the NTIA about its plan to distribute these digital-to-analog converter boxes, and also sent comments from NVRC. Among our concerns was how deaf and hard of hearing people would learn about this program, and whether the converter boxes would allow captions to pass through them and be displayed intact to our screens.
The NTIA just released its final rules on its “DTV Converter Box Coupon Program”. The coupons are also being called rebates, chits, and other terms. You can find a consumer fact sheet at:http://www.ntia.doc.gov/otiahome/dtv/DTVconsumers.pdf
Who Knew? It Pays to Watch TV.
An article with this headline, written by Jonathan Takiff in the March 13, 2007 edition of the Philadelphia Daily News, provides some information about the conversion to digital TV and the DTV coupon program through frequently asked questions:
Q: I now get all my TV by cable or satellite. Do I have to worry about analog channels going “dark”?
A: No. Your pay service will continue to deliver signals that your analog or digital TV can tune to.
Q: I have two sets connected to cable, and two TVs with rabbit ears that get only over-the-air signals. Am I still eligible for the rebate?
A: There are no restrictions on the first wave of rebates, funded up to $990 million. Any household can request one or two coupons. Each coupon will be numbered, for tracking purposes, and must be applied to the purchase of a box within 90 days of receipt. If this nearly $1 billion fund is depleted, a second wave of funding, up to $510 million more, will be tapped for more rebates, but only to cable-free households.
Q: Can I use the coupon toward the purchase of a digital TV set, or combine two coupons?
A: The coupons are only for the purchase of basic tuner/convertor boxes, with a one-coupon limit per item.
Q: What will the box look like, how will I hook it up, and what can I expect in terms of performance?
A: Two major electronics companies, Thomson and LG Electronics, have already produced prototype boxes. “They’re small – 5 or 6 inches wide, 3 or 4 inches deep and a couple inches high,” said an LG spokesman, John Taylor. “You’ll connect your rabbit ears or rooftop antenna to the box, then connect the box to your TV with a simple [coaxial] antenna wire or separate left and right audio [red and white] and video [yellow] plugged cables.” A wireless remote is included.
The boxes will convert enhanced and high-definition digital signals to standard-definition analog. But you’ll still see improvements over your current reception. With these “sixth-generation tuners,” said Taylor, the pictures will be “very sharp, free of ghosts and snow.” Also, you’ll be able to tune in the one to three extra news, weather, entertainment, public service and religious channels that broadcasters are sending out as bonuses in their “multicast” digital services.
For the full article:
The Big Question: Will Converter Boxes Enable Captioning?
Manufacturers LG Electronics and Thomson have not responded to queries from consumer organizations about whether their converter boxes would allow digital TV closed captions to pass through them.
Hearing Loss Association of America is encouraging its members to write letters to the editor asking “what is the good of the coupons for you if the set top box does not pass through captions that you rely on and that are mandated by the FCC?” They are also urging that consumers email NTIA to ask them to get answers to this question from converter box manufacturers. The NTIA email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenifer Simpson is the Senior Director, Telecommunications & Technology Policy at the American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD). She wrote to Jonathan Takiff, from whose article we took the excerpts above:
“Will the TV signal, as it converts from digital transmission to the over-the-air viewer with an analog TV set, include the closed captioning found in virtually all TV programming? Will millions of TV sets become useless to deaf and hard of hearing persons, including millions of aging Americans who use captioning, on February 17, 2009?
“FCC rules have required all TV programming distributed by TV stations, cable companies and satellite companies, and others — unless it has some sort of permitted exemption — to have closed captioning available for display. The FCC rules went into effect 10 years ago and January 1, 2006 was the last benchmark in an 8 year phase-in to fully closed caption all programming. There’s no excuse for anyone in the DTV industry not knowing about the closed captioning requirement in all TV programming.
“But will February 17, 2009 be the day when analog TV sets and LG and Thomson converter boxes become useless paperweights for over 31 million Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing, because someone forgot to make these set top box converters pass through the captioning? The coupons won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on for our deaf and hard of hearing persons if these converters can’t do this job. Is this any way to run a government give-away program?”
Good News, We Think
We’ve learned from Bob MacPherson of bhNEWS of an RCA press release appearing in Digital Trends on March 13, 2007 for its “energy-efficient DTA800 digital TV adapter” which can be purchased with the converter box coupon. Among the new features for analog TV viewers that RCA says the DTA800 will have are: on-screen program information sent by broadcasters, digital parental control options, closed captioning, and a SmartAntenna interface for use with specialty antenna products that optimize reception in hard-to-reach areas.
We also learned from “David Pierce” that although LG Electronics has been silent when queried by our organizations, it confirmed at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in 2006 that it will pass closed captioning.
©2007 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org. 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. Items in this newsletter are provided for information purposes only; NVRC does not endorse products or services. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC