Consumer Groups say 4 of 10 TV households have at least one set that gets its TV over-the-air and argue the government should have to pay for analog-to-digital converter boxes for all of them.
Congress is currently pondering a hard date for the switch from analog to digital, with Jan. 1, 2009, is the current date du jour. It is also considering a subsidy, though one with a means test to cover those who can't afford the estimated $50 per converter is more likely than one covering everyone.
That would not sit well with Gene Kimmelman, public policy director for Consumers Union. "Consumers will already have to bear the inconvenience of acquiring new equipment to keep their otherwise perfectly good TVs working," says Kimmelman. "They shouldn't also have to fork over $50 per set. Since Congress is expected to raise more than $10 billion from the spectrum auction, why shouldn't that money first be used to help consumers with the cost of keeping their TVs working? The first rule Congress must abide by is do no harm to consumers."
Consumer Union and the Consumer Federation of America 9CFA) want Congress to make sure and use a 70 million figure for affected TV sets, citing manufacturers estimates as low as 33 and saying even the National Association of Broadcasters, GAO, and other consumer groups' estimates of 65 million sets are too low.
Anything less than that 70 million number, says CFA Research Director Mark Cooper, "will understate the true impact on consumers and leave them footing the bill."
NAB, for one was happy to have consumers groups were on the converter-box case, though its focus for the transition continues to be multicast must-carry. "We're pleased the Consumers Union/Consumer Federation of America survey reinforces the findings of both the NAB and the GAO," said Eddie Fritts in a statement.
"We expect Congress will pass a DTV bill this year with a hard date for turning off analog television with minimal consumer disruption. NAB's priority continues to be the prevention of cable companies from blocking consumer access to local TV programming."