The head of the Consumer Electronics Association is urging Congress to end the digital-television transition and ignore inflated concerns of broadcasters about the impact on consumers who rely exclusively on free, over-the-air broadcasting.
TV station owners “have used a `Washington only’ strategy of delaying the cutoff date and seeking restrictions on cable, satellite and TV set makers (and now they are goingafter telephone companies who provide video signals,” CEA president Gary Shapiro said in May 10 letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).
Barton, who has not introduced legislation, is pressing for a Dec. 31, 2006 transition deadline. But the National Association of Broadcasters is fighting back, saying Barton’s plan would orphan 73 million TV sets not connected to a pay-TV service. Shapiro did not specifically endorse Dec. 31, 2006, only “a hard deadline.”
In the lengthy letter, Shapiro said 87% of TV homes subscribe to cable or satellite, and these homes should not have any trouble connecting sets with antennas to a pay service as the transition comes to a close.
While some off-air only homes will need assistance to buy a set-top box for their old analog sets after the transition, Shapiro said many consumers elect not to subscribe to cable or satellite not because they are low-income but because TV watching is secondary in their lives.
“Those who do not subscribe to cable or satellite watch, on average, 30% less television per week than cable and satellite subscribers. Nearly six of 10 say television simply is not a high priority for them. Fewer than 30% indicate that insufficient funds play a role in their decisions not to subscribe to television,” Shapiro said, citing CEA research on TV viewing habits.
Barton wants to subsidize converter boxes for low-income consumers. Shapiro did not endorse a subsidy program. Instead, he said TV set makers “respect and understand” Barton’s interest in the program.
Lawmakers, Shapiro said, had to recognize that because the “vast majority” of consumers are pay TV customers, stalling the end of the transition to accommodate the needs of a shrinking pool of off-air only viewers was not good policy.
“If there is any doubt about this, consider the total lack of public outcry over the recent announcement that Monday Night Football will be soon available only to satellite and cable households!” Shapiro said.