WASHINGTON - Today U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, hailed today's passage of a House bill to delay the nationwide transition to digital television by four months, to June 12, 2009. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill, which was passed by the Senate last Thursday. The transition mandates that full-power television stations cease broadcasting on over-the-air signals, and had been 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. Kohl cosponsored the legislation, which also allows the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to issue up to one replacement converter box coupon per household for coupons that have expired without being redeemed. This provision will go into effect when additional funds are appropriated to the coupon program. Currently, both the Senate and House stimulus packages include $650 million for additional coupons, as well as outreach and installation assistance to vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens."
"Less than a month out, we have over two million households still waiting for their coupons and millions more with expired coupons in hand," said Chairman Kohl. "I am relieved that both chambers of Congress have passed this vital legislation so that seniors and many other Americans aren't left in the dark."
Chairman Kohl has called on NTIA repeatedly to allow consumers with expired converter box coupons to reapply so that their coupons may be reissued. In June 2008, Kohl sent a letter along with 17 Congressional colleagues urging NTIA to address the issue, and echoed his concerns when the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in September that areas with predominately senior populations have allowed 43 percent of their converter box coupons to expire. At that time, Kohl also called on NTIA 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.
Earlier this month, Chairman Kohl sent letters to then-Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez , 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 NTIA converter box coupon program. According to NTIA, over two million households are on the coupon waiting list. Of these, Neilsen data reports that nearly half are not DTV ready. Kohl sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies and wholeheartedly supports the DTV funding included in the stimulus.
In September 2007, 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 that, at the time, the federal government was drastically unprepared to educate America's seniors about the February 2009 transition.  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.  Following the hearing, Chairman Kohl helped convene the Keeping Seniors Connected Coalition, consisting of organizations advocating on behalf of older Americans and other vulnerable populations. Kohl led the Coalition in a push to obtain federal funding for those community outreach groups on the frontlines of the DTV transition. The coalition determined that seniors would need targeted education, assistance in navigating the federal government's converter box coupon program, and one-on-one support for converter box installation. The funds awarded today could be used by n4a for these purposes.
In November 2008, Chairman Kohl hailed NTIA's announcement of an award in the amount of $2.7 million to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) to help seniors transition to digital television.  A year prior, Kohl had introduced the Preparing America's Seniors for the Digital Television Transition Act of 2007, 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 and the converter box coupon program. Similar legislative language was included as an amendment to S. 2607, the DTV Transition Assistance Act.
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