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The National Switch to Digital Television is Today

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, June 12, 2009

CONTACT OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS

202-482-4883

The National Switch to Digital Television is Today

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke urges Americans to get ready, says unprecedented consumer outreach will continue after June 12

After months of events and intensive nationwide outreach, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today issued a final reminder for unprepared Americans to take immediate action to avoid losing access to important television programming when the nation switches to digital television today.

Locke’s message is aimed at Americans who rely solely upon free, over-the-air broadcasting using older, analog televisions connected to “rabbit ears” or rooftop antennas.

“I recognize that during these difficult economic times, the switch to digital television may not be at the top of some families’ to-do lists,” Locke said. “That is why we continue to remind unprepared Americans they do not simply risk being cut off from television entertainment. They will also lose a vital means of emergency information if they do not get ready for DTV.”

Unprepared consumers have three ways to get ready for digital television: subscribe to cable, satellite or another pay television service; purchase a television with a digital tuner; or buy a converter box that hooks up to an analog TV and keeps it working after June 12.

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has embarked on an unprecedented consumer education and awareness campaign in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission and other federal agencies, state and local governments, members of Congress, consumer groups, and industry. While NTIA’s outreach is national in scope, the agency has targeted additional efforts to the most unprepared communities, including African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and younger consumers. During the past four months, NTIA’s efforts included:

  • Ads in approximately 700 media outlets nationwide that reach minority communities.
  • A public service campaign targeted to public transportation riders with ads in transit shelters, bus interiors, on the outside of buses and on bus benches.Total ridership on the buses that displayed the Coupon Programinformation was 59.6 million.
  • Mobile Assistance Centers – DTV clinics on wheels – bringing information and assistance to dozens of cities with 211 events nationwide.

Meanwhile, Locke’s outreach included:

  • Television and radio interviews in more than two dozen of the most unprepared markets to educate consumers about the transition.
  • DTV events in Los Angeles with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in Sacramento with Mayor Kevin Johnson, and in Baltimore with Governor Martin O’Malley.
  • Interviews in every major Hispanic/Latino media outlet in the country, including El Piolin, Univision and Telemundo, and top outlets geared toward African-American audiences, including the Tom Joyner show and BET’s “106 and Park.”

The efforts significantly cut unpreparedness numbers.

In January, the Nielsen Company estimated that 6.5 million households were unprepared for the switch to digital. Acting out of concern for the millions who could lose television service, President Obama and Congress delayed in February the scheduled transition by four months and dedicated funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help Americans prepare. As a result, the number of unready households has been reduced by more than half, to 2.8 million; Nielsen now estimates that over 97 percent of American households are DTV-ready.

Also as a result, NTIA improved its TV Converter Box Coupon Program, which provides eligible households with up to two $40 coupons that can be used toward the purchase of certified converter boxes. Most notably, NTIA eliminated a backlog of requests for more than 4 million coupons, issued an additional 7 million coupons, sped up the coupon delivery process by sending coupons via first class mail, and allowed households with expired coupons to apply for and receive new coupons.

“The Department of Commerce and its DTV education partners put the additional time and resources to good use,” Locke said. “Still, despite near-universal consumer awareness of the DTV switch, some households remain unprepared. That’s why our efforts won’t end today.”

NTIA will continue providing consumer assistance after the June 12 transition. For example:

  • TV converter box coupons will be available to consumers who apply until July 31, while supplies last.
  • The TV Converter Box Coupon Program will keep its toll-free number running—1-888-DTV-200—with both English- and Spanish-speaking operators.
  • Radio ads will continue, and www.dtv2009.gov will be updated.
  • NTIA consumer outreach grantees—The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF) and The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a)—will continue providing information and assistance to targeted populations.
  • The Coupon Program will continue making coupon request and redemption data available to retailers to help them manage converter box inventory and meet consumer demand.

Consumers who plan to buy converter boxes are urged to call stores ahead on the day they will shop. Consumers who choose to use a coupon toward the purchase of a converter box must use the coupon at the time of purchase.

The transition to digital broadcasting will free up airwaves for use by emergency responders. In addition, digital broadcasting will provide a clearer picture and more programming choices for many consumers. Consumers can go to www.dtv2009.gov for more information.