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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 11, 2008

SCHUMER: UPSTATE NEW YORKERS AT RISK OF FALLING OFF THE DIGITAL CLIFF WHEN DTV DEADLINE HITS IN FEBRUARY - ANALOG CONVERTER BOX MAY NOT BE ENOUGH FOR SOME RURAL TV VIEWERS


With Broadcast TV Switching from Analog to Digital in Less Than Three Months, Many Rural Viewers May Need To Purchase Additional Equipment to Gain Reception

FCC Leaves New York State Households in the Dark on Digital Cliff Phenomenon - As Many As Five Percent of Over the Air Households Will Need a New Antenna

Schumer Pushes Department of Commerce to Address the Digital Cliff Problem - In Letter, Questions Commerce Secretary On How His Department Will Help Consumers in Purchasing New Antenna

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today warned Upstate New Yorkers they could be at risk of falling off the digital cliff even if they purchase a digital converter box for their analog-only set when digital television transition goes into effect in February.  Analog-only televisions will go dark on February 17, 2009 when all over-the-air broadcast signals will be transmitted by a digital signal only, which analog televisions are not equipped to receive. Many residents already planning to purchase a converter box may also need to purchase a residential antenna and booster for their television set, but the Department of Commerce has yet to offer further financial assistance or general guidance for consumers who will need to purchase this additional equipment. 

As required by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, on February 17, 2009, all television broadcasts will be transmitted by a digital signal only. The FCC has said that in order to receive a digital signal either over-the-air (through an antenna) or via a cable or satellite provider, consumers must be equipped with a digital television set or a television set with a digital tuner.

 

Today, Schumer warned that consumers living between 30 and 65 miles away from transmission towers are potentially vulnerable to falling off the digital cliff—losing their signal altogether—when they set up their digital conversion boxes. 

 

The digital cliff represents the barrier between analog and digital cable. Unlike analog broadcasters, where a weakening signal means an increasingly weak picture, when a digital signal gets weak enough, there is no picture at all. The digital cliff represents the difference between analog and digital signals.  The digital signal is “all or nothing,” meaning consumers with a weak signal, like those in rural areas, will lose their picture altogether when converted to digital, as opposed to a consumer with a weak analog signal who merely gets a fuzzy picture.  After the analog-to-digital conversion, some consumers with converter boxes will lose some of the channels they previously received with an analog signal, and therefore may need to purchase a residential antenna and booster to avoid losing channels.

In an effort to help consumers, Schumer today pushed the Commerce Department to address the digital cliff problem in its entirety and asked for answers to many yet to be addressed questions on the phenomenon.

“It’s just one thing after another with the digital television transition. First, consumers continue to have trouble gaining access to much-needed converter box coupons, now we learn they could fall off the digital cliff and lose all access to reception if they don’t buy a certain type of antenna and booster,” Schumer said. “To make matters worse, we don’t have a clear understanding of who or where this phenomenon impacts. I am calling on the Department of Commerce to answer our questions on the digital cliff, educate consumers of the problem and, if necessary, help consumers shoulder the cost of the new equipment.”

Today, after hearing concerns from Upstate New York households, Schumer issued questions for the Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to answer on the digital cliff phenomenon and pushed the Commerce to educate consumers of the potential problem. Schumer said there were too many questions left unanswered on the problems that could occur following the transition for rural households and consumers should not be left in the dark on the transition. 

 

According to the FCC, 5% of households could be affected by the digital cliff. Additionally, according to The Nielsen Company, as of November 4, 2008, almost 9 million households—7.7% of all homes—were not ready for the upcoming transition to all-digital broadcasting and would be unable to receive any television programming at all if the transition occurred today. As of October 2008, 15 million households—10.7%—are only partially prepared, meaning one or more television set in their home is not currently able to receive a digital signal.  In New York State, 3.7 percent of all households were unprepared for the conversion as of September 1, 2008.

 

According to the Nielsen Company, this is how the numbers breakdown across the state:

 

  • In the Albany-Schenectady-Troy media market, approximately 50,000 (9 percent) of the 553,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the Syracuse media market, approximately 44,000 (11.4 percent) of the 386,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the Rochester media market, approximately 65,000 (16.6 percent) of the 392,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the Elmira media market, approximately 7,000 (7.4 percent) of the 96,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the Utica media market, approximately 8,000 (7.6 percent) of the 106,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the Binghamton media market, approximately 11,000 (7.7 percent) of the 139,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the Watertown media market, approximately 8,000 (8.9 percent) of the 92,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the Plattsburgh media market (including Burlington, Vermont), approximately 41,000 (9 percent) of the 328,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the Buffalo media market, approximately 62,000 (9.7 percent) of the 637,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

  • In the New York City media market (including parts of the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and Connecticut), approximately 377,000 (5.1 percent) of the 7,391,000 television households are broadcast only.

 

Senator Schumer wrote a letter to the Commerce Secretary urging him to provide consumers living from 30-65 miles from a transmission tower with financial assistance for purchase of additional antennae.  

 

Schumer wrote: “Consumers who do not have cable but instead rely on an over-the-air signal for their television sets are potentially vulnerable to losing their signal altogether when they set up their digital conversion boxes.  These consumers typically live in rural areas that currently receive a weak analog signal on their sets, resulting in a fuzzy picture.”

 

A full copy of the Senator’s letter is below:

 

Dear Secretary Gutierrez,

 

I write today to express my ongoing concerns with the Digital Television Transition (DTV) scheduled for February 17, 2009, as I believe there are serious problems we will encounter as this date rapidly approaches.  As of today, we are just 68 days from the analog-to-digital switch.  I am deeply troubled by reports of the “digital cliff” that some of my constituents are facing in New York State, which would result in the need to purchase additional equipment at a further expense. 

 

Consumers who do not have cable but instead rely on an over-the-air signal for their television sets are potentially vulnerable to losing their signal altogether when they set up their digital conversion boxes.  These consumers typically live in rural areas that currently receive a weak analog signal on their sets, resulting in a fuzzy picture.  It appears that those living anywhere from 30-65 miles from a transmission tower face the prospect of falling off the digital cliff.   Because a digital signal is “all or nothing,” consumers with a weak signal lose their picture altogether when converted. The only two options that seem to exist for constituents remedy this problem is either to subscribe to a cable television service or install a costly personal antenna systems and signal booster.

I would appreciate your prompt answer to the following questions:

·        Will the Department of Commerce provide consumers with additional financial assistance, similar to the DTV converter box coupon program, for purchase of these antennae?  

·        If plans are not currently in place, can the Department develop a strategy, by January 15th, to assist households that will need to purchase an antenna? 

·        If that is not possible, why not, and then how will you deal with consumers who will lose their signal due to this problem?

·        How many consumers are expected to need this additional equipment?  Early reports indicate that as many as 5% of households that need a converter box might also need an antenna.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  I know you share my desire to ensure a smooth transition to digital television.  Please contact Jason Abel, in my office, at (202) 224-6542, with concerns or questions you may have. 

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