KOHL URGES NTIA & CONGRESS TO ADD EMERGENCY FUNDS TO DTV


WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, sent letters to Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez , incoming Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), urging them to address the shortfall in funding for the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA)'s converter box coupon program. On Tuesday it was announced that the federal program, which was created to help subsidize the cost of a converter box for analog televisions, had run out of funding and that all future coupon applicants would be placed on a waiting list. The digital television transition, which mandates that full-power television stations cease broadcasting on over-the-air signals, is set to occur just over a month from now on February 17, 2009. Of the 21 million Americans who are estimated to rely solely on over-the-air broadcasts, forty percent of them are seniors.
 
In the letters, Chairman Kohl expressed that fast and decisive action is needed to keep the program up and running until a majority of those in need are able to get their coupons, and further, that the government must monitor the availability of converter boxes in retail stores.  For months, Chairman Kohl has called on NTIA to apply commonsense policy changes to allow the transition to go smoothly for seniors and all Americans. Specifically, he has repeatedly asked the agency to comply with GAO's recommendation to develop a plan to manage volatility in coupon requests leading up to the transition, expressing concern that NTIA had no specific plans to address an increase in the demand for converter box coupons.
 
In better news, yesterday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its selection of 12 grassroots organizations and local agencies, including Wisconsin Public Television, to help analog television viewers prepare for the digital transition, with a particular focus on seniors, the disabled, and Spanish-speaking households. The organizations will receive a total of $8.4 million. Last September, Congress appropriated $20 million to help the FCC fund its digital television outreach efforts. Chairman Kohl was vocal in his support of such funding. In 2007, Kohl introduced the Preparing America's Seniors for the Digital Television Transition Act, which in part would have established a grant program to support non-profits and state and local government agencies, such as area agencies on aging, in their efforts to help seniors and other vulnerable populations navigate the transition. Similar legislative language was included as an amendment to S. 2607, the DTV Transition Assistance Act.
 
#    #   #
 
Text of the letters is provided below: 
 
January 8, 2009
 
 
The Honorable Carlos Gutierrez
Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Mr. Secretary:
 
I am writing in light of the National Telecommunications Information Administration's (NTIA) announcement earlier this week that consumers requesting coupons from the agency's TV Converter Box Coupon Program will now be placed on a waiting list due to a shortage of funds. I urge NTIA to act immediately to ensure that the DTV converter box coupon program can meet the needs of millions of Americans who rely on over-the-air TV.
 
In Wisconsin alone, nearly one-quarter of the population - over half a million households - rely on free over-the-air TV. In order to promote a successful conversion to digital television, my office, broadcasters and many other volunteers throughout Wisconsin are working to assist consumers in obtaining coupons and purchasing converter boxes. Coupon demand has been rising significantly with no signs of slowing. Thus far, Wisconsin households have requested 1,483,882 converter box coupons and 723,193 coupons have been redeemed. I am particularly concerned that a slowdown in the provision of coupons will affect viewers most at-risk of losing reception, including the elderly, disabled and those living in rural areas.
 
In addition, according to NTIA estimates, it is possible that retail stores will not be able to meet the demand for converter boxes, and could fall short by millions. Certainly any extension to the coupon program must be met with an adequate supply of converter boxes. I urge NTIA to make certain that retailers will also be able to meet the increased demand for converter boxes.
 
There is very little time remaining before the February 17 transition, therefore I urge you to act without delay to bolster funding for the coupon program and to work make certain that inventory is available when coupons are once again distributed. It is our duty to ensure that all consumers have a successful and seamless conversion to digital television.
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
 
Herb Kohl
U.S. Senator
 
January 8, 2009
 
 
The Honorable John D. Rockefeller
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Rockefeller:
 
I am writing in light of the National Telecommunications Information Administration's (NTIA) announcement earlier this week that consumers requesting coupons from the agency's TV Converter Box Coupon Program will now be placed on a waiting list due to a shortage of funds. I urge the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to act immediately to ensure that the DTV converter box coupon program can meet the needs of millions of Americans who rely on over-the-air TV.
 
In Wisconsin alone, nearly one-quarter of the population - over half a million households - rely on free over-the-air TV. In order to promote a successful conversion to digital television, my office, broadcasters and many other volunteers throughout Wisconsin are working to assist consumers in obtaining coupons and purchasing converter boxes. Coupon demand has been rising significantly with no signs of slowing. Thus far, Wisconsin households have requested 1,483,882 converter box coupons and 723,193 coupons have been redeemed. I am particularly concerned that a slowdown in the provision of coupons will affect viewers most at-risk of losing reception, including the elderly, disabled and those living in rural areas.
 
In addition, according to NTIA estimates, it is possible that retail stores will not be able to meet the demand for converter boxes, and could fall short by millions. Certainly any extension to the coupon program must be met with an adequate supply of converter boxes. I urge the Commerce Committee to make certain that retailers will also be able to meet the increased demand for converter boxes.
 
There is very little time remaining before the February 17 transition, therefore I urge you to act without delay to bolster funding for the coupon program and to work make certain that inventory is available when coupons are once again distributed. It is our duty to ensure that all consumers have a successful and seamless conversion to digital television.
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
Herb Kohl
U.S. Senator
January 8, 2009
 
 
 
The Honorable Barbara Mikulski
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
144 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 

Dear Chairwoman Mikulski:
 
I am writing in light of the National Telecommunications Information Administration's (NTIA) announcement earlier this week that consumers requesting coupons from the agency's TV Converter Box Coupon Program will now be placed on a waiting list due to a shortage of funds. I urge the Commerce, Justice and Related Agencies Subcommittee to act immediately to ensure that the DTV converter box coupon program can meet the needs of millions of Americans who rely on over-the-air TV.
 
In Wisconsin alone, nearly one-quarter of the population - over half a million households - rely on free over-the-air TV. In order to promote a successful conversion to digital television, my office, broadcasters and many other volunteers throughout Wisconsin are working to assist consumers in obtaining coupons and purchasing converter boxes. Coupon demand has been rising significantly with no signs of slowing. Thus far, Wisconsin households have requested 1,483,882 converter box coupons and 723,193 coupons have been redeemed. I am particularly concerned that a slowdown in the provision of coupons will affect viewers most at-risk of losing reception, including the elderly, disabled and those living in rural areas.
 
There is very little time remaining before the February 17 transition, therefore I urge you to act without delay to bolster funding for the coupon program. It is our duty to ensure that all consumers have a successful and seamless conversion to digital television.
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
 
Herb Kohl
U.S. Senator