NASW Weighs In on Digital TV

NASW was represented on a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) consumer education workshop to address low-income consumers in the upcoming switch to digital-only television reception.

The issue involves the end of traditional analog television broadcasts on Feb. 17, 2009, and the switch to a digital-only service. According to the commission, consumers can learn more about the switch to digital TV reception at Digital Television or by calling the FCC at (888) 225-5322.

Luisa Lopez, acting director of Social Work Practice, Human Rights and International Affairs at NASW, represented the association at the workshop and shared her opinions with FCC consumer relations staff as well as some FCC commissioners.

While education ad campaigns announcing the changeover have been in rotation in recent months, consumers in isolated communities may need to hear the message from sources that they know, trust or better understand, said Lopez.

The FCC invited NASW to speak on the basic principles of outreach work. "Reaching out to community-level organizations is important when dealing with marginalized populations," Lopez said. "Some communities and individuals tend to only listen to news from the people they trust. Senior centers, faith-based institutions and even grocery stores can serve as communication hubs. There are known small community institutions that are the best outlets for information like this."

As more people see the TV advertisements about the changeover, marginalized consumers will likely be questioning whether they need assistance in the transition to the new format, Lopez said. She added that social workers can visit the FCC Web site to gather more details and help provide answers to clients' questions.

The FCC's Consumers and Government Affairs Bureau said it appreciated NASW's input at the workshop. "We recognize the importance of our outreach efforts to low-income consumers, and we want to move quickly to start addressing the points raised during our discussion," said Pam Slipakoff, chief of staff for consumer and government affairs at the FCC.

Those who will likely be most affected by the changeover will be consumers who receive only free, over-the-air television programming. Those with cable or satellite services should not be affected, the FCC has said in its ad campaigns. Some TVs may accept the new digital format already, but for others, the purchase of a converter box to attach to an analog TV may be necessary. To help with that expense, between now and March 31, 2009, all U.S. households will be able to request up to two coupons, worth $40 each, to be used toward the future purchase of eligible digital-to-analog converter boxes. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is administering the coupon program.

According to a recent news article, the FCC has been working toward spreading the message to certain demographic groups. Of the more than 4,000 presentations the staff has given around the country, around 3,000 of them have been at senior centers, FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said. He added that the FCC is also working with the U.S. Administration on Aging to get the message out.