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Digital television conversion delayed until June 12

Digital television conversion delayed until June 12

Boston television viewers now have an additional four months to prepare for the long-anticipated digital changeover, a timetable expected to allow further outreach efforts to prepare the relative few in the city whose TVs are not yet ready.

The U.S. House of Representatives last Wednesday approved delaying the digital television changeover, a switch mandated by the 2005 passing of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act, which required broadcasters to stop transmitting the programming of their full-power television stations through analog signals and start using newer digital technology.

Originally scheduled to take place on Feb. 17, the House voted to push the change back to June 12, a move that passed the Senate the previous week.

President Barack Obama has supported the decision, saying that nearly 20 million homes in low-income, elderly and rural communities were not going to be ready by the original switchover date.

According to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, about 13 million Americans hold expired $40 coupons that the government had provided to offset the costs of purchasing the converter boxes needed for older televisions to access the digital content. Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package is supposed to budget more money for both the outstanding and newly issued coupons.

Television survey agency Nielsen said last Thursday that just over 5 percent of American households remain unprepared. More than 8 percent of African American residences, Hispanic homes and households headed by people under age 35 are not ready, according to Nielsen.

Despite the national concerns, Boston ranks highly in citizen preparedness, with the vast majority of residents ready for the transition. To be exact, “97 percent of Boston television viewers are ready because of the high cable and satellite capacity in the city,” according to Karen Holmes Ward, director of community relations for WCVB-TV.

She has spent the last year educating communities around the city about the transition and said she hopes that in the next four months the remaining 3 percent will get up to speed.

“You don’t have to buy a new TV to deal with the digital transition,” Holmes Ward said. “If you can’t afford cable, you can get a coupon, which can be used toward a converter box.”

Holmes also said people should be aware of misleading information about the transition.

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office last month reached an agreement with local cable giant Comcast resolving allegations that the company, during a November 2008 promotional campaign, “did not accurately and fairly disclose information that consumers needed in order to understand how they could prepare” for the transition, according to the attorney general’s office. Under the new agreement, Comcast will not only make modifications to its Web site and future promotional mailings, but will also destroy all copies of the “Get Ready” promotional mailings intended for distribution in Massachusetts that were the subject of the office’s investigation.

The Boston Elderly Commission has also been working overtime to help seniors understand the transition. Commissioner Eliza Greenberg said there have been advertisements about the transition placed in the agency’s publication, “Seniority,” and a commission staff member has been in charge of helping seniors with their television sets.

Greenberg said that approximately 75 percent of the seniors she has been in contact with are ready, but her agency is worried about those seniors who live alone and are either unaware of the coming transition or having a difficult time understanding how to use their converter boxes.

“This process can be overwhelming for our seniors,” Greenberg said. “Seniors need to contact us if they want help with their television sets.”

Charlestown resident Abrihet Giday just received a coupon she plans to use toward purchasing a converter box for her grandmother, a recent immigrant from Ethiopia who watches TV primarily to learn English. Giday said that the delay will help those with language barriers in her neighborhood to catch up with the rest of the city.

“Both my grandmother and I are very happy about the delay, and we are grateful that people like my grandmother are being considered,” Giday said.

For more information about the digital converter box coupons, visit or call 1-888-388-2009. To contact the Boston Elderly Commission, call 617-635-4366.

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