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Companion to Kohl DTV Bill Introduced in the House

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Location: Washington, DC


COMPANION TO KOHL DTV BILL INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE

Kohl Lauds Industry Commitment of $697 Million, New Cable Industry Ads

U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, today announced the introduction of a companion to S. 2125, the Preparing America's Seniors for the Digital Television Transition Act of 2007, in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House version, introduced with the same title, is sponsored by Congressman Albert R. Wynn (D-MD) and Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC). Chairman Kohl also lauded yesterday's announcement by the National Association of Broadcasters that the broadcasting industry would be committing $697 million toward a DTV transition consumer education campaign, and welcomed a new advertisement campaign from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association that seeks to educate seniors about the DTV transition and government coupon program. Additionally, Chairman Kohl welcomed an announcement from the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) that, in conjunction with PBS, they will be dedicating over $50 million on consumer education targeted to over-the-air households.

"I commend the broadcasting and cable industries for committing significant resources to the DTV transition consumer education effort. As we discovered last month at our hearing, the government is ill-prepared to reach those that will be affected by the transition, particularly vulnerable populations such as older Americans," said Chairman Kohl. "This bicameral legislation will be especially useful in helping the government coordinate efforts with industry stakeholders."

"It's imperative that we recognize the unique conditions faced by our elderly communities. Most seniors are not as technologically savvy as the younger generation. Even in this digital age, many senior citizens still use rabbit ears to improve their reception," said Congressman Wynn. "Without this legislation, it's likely seniors won't be able to watch television and won't even know why or what to do to fix the problem."

"Senator Kohl has provided a commonsense approach that ensures there's a plan of action in place to keep millions of seniors from experiencing a blank screen when the transition to digital television occurs," Congressman Butterfield said. "The transition could close the digital divide; increase access to health care for rural areas such as my district; and widen the communication capacity for our schools and first responders. This represents an enormous opportunity, but everyone must be ready for it. This legislation ensures everyone can be ready."

On February 17, 2009, television stations will cease broadcasting their analog signals, at which point analog televisions will stop working unless they are connected to a converter, cable or satellite. This bicameral legislation would formalize a partnership between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the Administration on Aging (AoA) with specific reporting requirements. The purpose of the partnership would be to coordinate with a diverse advisory board of stakeholders—representing broadcasters, aging advocates, disability groups, rural Americans, and state and local governments—to craft a national consumer education campaign targeting older individuals who depend on analog TV.

The legislation would establish a grant program to support non-profits and state and local government agencies, such as area agencies on aging, as they help seniors and other vulnerable populations navigate the transition and the coupon program. The coupon program was created by NTIA to help subsidize the cost of a converter box for analog televisions. The legislation also modifies the coupon program to ensure that households relying solely on over-the-air television sets are prioritized and that residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are eligible to participate. Additionally, the bill would set requirements for the broadcasting industry, electronic manufacturers, and electronic retailers which include mandatory public service announcements; placement of easily identifiable labels on coupon-eligible converter boxes; and the maintenance of toll-free phone lines to help individuals with converter box installation. Finally, the legislation would set specific reporting requirements for both the NTIA and FCC in order to monitor the overall progress of the transition and the implementation of the coupon program.

On September 19, the Aging Committee held a hearing entitled "Preparing for the Digital Television Transition: Will Seniors Be Left in the Dark?" Testimony from Federal Communications Commissioner John Adelstein and Mark Goldstein, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), corroborated the results of an Aging Committee investigation that found the federal government is drastically unprepared to educate America's seniors about the transition, set to take place February 17, 2009. The hearing uncovered several concerns, including the lack of coordination between government agencies; an over reliance on competing private sector efforts; the potential for fraud, abuse, and confusion with respect to the government's coupon-program; and finally, that non-profit organizations require additional resources to sufficiently assist seniors with navigating the transition.

The legislation has received support from AARP, the Association for Public Television Stations (APTS), the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the National Association of State Units on Aging, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs, and the Meals on Wheels Association of America.


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