CEA Boss On DTV Switch: Stay Calm

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Washington – Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro said Tuesday that people will stay calm and adjust quickly if they fail to prepare for the digital television transition scheduled to occur early next year.

“This is not people losing their homes,” Shapiro told a luncheon audience comprised mostly of communications lawyers. “This is people losing TV services.”

Shapiro offered his take exactly 364 days before full-power TV stations by law need to drop their analog signals and go all-digital.

“If we don’t panic, we’ll be fine,” Shapiro said. “This is not the end of the Republic. This isn’t medicine or health or food. It’s TV.”

People in broadcast-only homes with analog TV sets need to take action before TV stations shut off their analog signals on Feb. 17, 2009. They can buy a digital-to-analog converter box, subscribe to cable or satellite TV, or buy a digital TV set.

It is estimated that between 11 million and 19 million homes need to prepare for the digital switch. According to CEA, about half of all U.S. homes already have DTV sets. But it’s not clear how many broadcast-only homes have DTV receivers.

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has $1.5 billion to subsidize retail purchase of converter boxes, with each household eligible to receive two $40 coupons to spend on boxes expected to cost between $40 and $70 each.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and regulators at the Federal Communications Commissions fear a consumer backlash if too many people don't get the word.

Shapiro suggested that people would adjust by consulting family, friends and neighbors on ways to restore their TV service. A day or two without TV, he said, won’t lead to some kind of volcanic eruption that many forecast.

“Two million Americans filed for bankruptcy and lost their homes in 2007. That’s a big deal,” Shapiro said. “I guarantee you will have fewer than 2 million Americans by a long shot [that lose TV service.”]

Shapiro said he was concerned that fear could result in poor public policy decisions as the transition date nears.

“The only thing that will hurt us, frankly, is as we get closer and closer, people will be jumping up and down and saying, `The sky is falling’ when it’s not,” he said.

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