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Preparing Consumers for the End of the Digital Television Transition

The cost of such a converter box is expected to be in the range of $50 to $125, depending on the date of the transition and the volume of boxes to be purchased. In addition to the costs of the converter box, there could be additional costs for installation and for purchase of special rooftop antennas. These costs do not account for the time spent and inconvenience consumers will experience with the purchase and installation of the required equipment.

According to a 2004 survey, about 21 million consumers rely on over-the-air broadcast-only television. These are the consumers who will be without any television at the point of the transition unless steps are taken to adapt their television sets. In recent testimony before this Subcommittee, the GAO reported that of the 21 million over-the-air broadcast-only households, 48 percent have incomes under $30,000. According to the report, "non-white and Hispanic households are more likely to rely on over-the-air television than are white and non-Hispanic households." Of the 21 million households, approximately 8.6 million include at least one person over the age of 50. Millions of these consumers are on fixed incomes and/or are in lower income brackets.

AARP's major concern is with the millions of consumers, many of them older citizens, with over-the-air broadcast-only television sets. As noted, a significant number of these individuals and households will be hard put to afford costly conversion equipment. We urge Congress to consider the health and welfare of these consumers and arrange an assistance program that is directed toward those in greatest need.

A comprehensive and wide-reaching consumer education program must be initiated well in advance of any determined date for the transition to digital television. An important first step to alleviate the negative impacts of this transition is to educate the general public well in advance of the date when the transition will be complete. When the transition occurs, millions of TV sets will go dark. Can you imagine the confusion and distress that will result if consumers are unaware that this will happen? AARP recommends that a comprehensive plan to educate the general public be implemented at least one year before the transition occurs. We suggest several steps to educate the public:

First, public service announcements (PSA) for television and radio should be developed, perhaps by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to inform consumers that on the date determined, over-the-air broadcast-only television sets will not work unless certain steps are taken. The PSA would display a toll-free telephone number for consumers to call and receive more detailed information on the equipment required for their television sets. Consumers will need specific information on how to purchase a set-top box, the installation process, and all costs involved with these steps.

Second, a mail insert detailing the transition and providing the necessary consumer information should be prepared and sent in a government mailing received by the widest range of consumer populations. Annual tax forms are an example of a vehicle that could serve as the government mailing to include an enclosure with transition information.

Third, the Federal Communications Commission should expand its outreach plans for the digital television transition and prepare consumer-friendly materials for the general public. The materials should be distributed at libraries, community centers, and other public places that currently distribute consumer information. This is an opportunity for the FCC to be creative in crafting an effective outreach plan.

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