By Derek Wing
Special to Northwest Asian Weekly
June 12 is the new date when TV stations across the country are required to change from analog to digital signals, after the House of Representatives voted 264 to 168 and the Senate voted unanimously to extend the deadline for the DTV changeover.
The delay gives an estimated 6.5 million households that are not ready for the change more time to prepare. It is a move we at the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) think is the right one because, of those unprepared households, nearly half are of low income — earning less than $25,000 a year — and many are likely limited in their English-speaking. That means that there’s a good chance your friend, relative, or someone you know could be affected.
NAPCA recently conducted an aggressive national DTV information campaign, holding events in six major cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and Westminster/Orange County, CA.) The results were eye opening. Of the hundreds of APIs seniors we surveyed, only about half of them knew about the DTV changeover, and 70 to 80 percent hadn’t taken any action to prepare for the change.
Whether it was because of the language barrier, a lack of fully understanding the issue, or not having the money to buy a converter box, it seems clear to us that low-income minorities are the least informed and have the highest risk of losing their TV signals. They are a forgotten group and are very vulnerable.
In case you are not clear on the issue, the DTV change means that if viewers currently watch over-the-air (OTA) television channels using “rabbit ear” or rooftop antennas, they will likely need to purchase a converter box for their older TVs. This could be devastating for many, especially low-income and limited English-speaking Asian seniors, for whom television is often the only link to the outside world, a source of both news and entertainment they rely on to get their daily information.
NAPCA applauds the decision to delay the deadline because the frightening image of a senior on their rooftop, adjusting an antenna on a cold February morning is one we do not want to see. Thankfully, now we won’t. Even with the extension, we believe now is still the time for API seniors to take action and order their coupons.
The average cost for a converter box is $50 to $80, a hefty price for low-income seniors to pay. But they can apply for a free $40 coupon that would go toward the cost of the converter box.
However, with the demand for coupons exceeding the amount available, there is now a waiting list of nearly 4 million people.
NAPCA urges APIs to apply for those coupons now. Those who previously received coupons but did not purchase boxes may still be able to reapply for new coupons. The sense of urgency is still there because even though the deadline has been pushed back, it will take time for people to apply and receive the coupon, buy a converter box, set it up, and deal with whatever pitfalls that may happen along the way.
An additional reason to act now is that the June 12 deadline for broadcasters is voluntary, so there may be TV stations turning off their analog signals as early as the original Feb. 17 date.
Also, with 70 million TVs that get over-the-air signal, only about 6 million converter boxes are available between January and June, which means that retail stores and consumers could find the boxes out of stock as the deadline nears.
To help those who need to purchase converter boxes, NAPCA’s national toll-free multilingual helpline can assist with online coupon applications and provide information for callers in their native Asian languages.
Ask your grandparents, senior neighbors, or friends if they need help. Offer to help install the converter boxes to their TVs. Or, if they haven’t reached that step in the process, give them NAPCA’s helpline numbers so we can help them apply for converter box coupons. If we don’t take it upon ourselves to take action, many could be left in the dark. ■
NAPCA national multilingual toll-free helpline numbers:
Derek Wing is the director of communications for NAPCA. He can be reached at Derek@napca.org.
Comment on this commentary HERE