Dealing with the Digital Television Transition

by Quintana Woodridge 

“I don’t have a TV. I use my internet to get information on what’s going on around the world. My cable bill is $50 a month with taxes. It was recently disconnected due to prorated expenses that were too much,” said Ebone Young.

Young is a resident of the South Shore community on the Southeast side of Chicago. She is one among millions of low-income citizens not only in Chicago but across the United States that do not have access to television programming due to the Digital TV conversion.

The switch to a digital signal means those with older TV sets can no longer receive free TV. These citizens either can’t afford a digital-ready television or the cost of cable.

For many people, the DTV switch has ended their ability to watch TV.

Stephanie G, a Spanish-speaking resident in the West Englewood community, said her mother can’t enjoy her programs, because their television no longer picks up Spanish language channels and the family can’t afford a converter box.

Many low-income people are stretching their budgets to afford cable, however.

Since the DTV switch in June 2009, the enrollment list and revenues of cable companies have grown. On August 6, 2009, Comcast announced a 4.5 percent revenue growth in its second quarter.

A spokesperson for the RCN Cable Company said they had also seen a growth in the number of subscribers:

“We have added more customers since the digital switch over in all the states where our services are.”

The RCN spokesperson added that the most popular services chosen among the cable companies are bundle packages that consist of phone service, cable TV and Internet access.

“I have DirecTV and the bill is high,” said Brian Rogers of the Bronzeville area. Rogers said he spends $99 a month for a bundle package.

One activist said the era of free TV may be over.

“All people may have to pay to watch TV in the next couple of years,” said Mitchell Szczepanczyk, a Polish- and English-speaking resident affiliated with Chicago Media Action. Befiore the DTV switch, Szczepanczyk and the CMA published a letter in 60 newspapers around the country expressing their concerns and recommending several ways to make the switch easier. Since the switch, Szczepanczyk has been following the effects of the DTV switch on low-income, fixed income, and non-English-speaking people.

“Many of the non-English-speaking families rely on television for information,” said Szczepanczyk.

Szczepanczyk explained that the most of the public airwaves were auctioned off in 2000 and are now owned large media companies such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Many of these channels should be used for public broadcasting, Szczepanczyk said.

He suggested that the Obama Administration look at other digital broadcasting systems around the world then create a system that will accommodate everyone and allow access to public broadcasting for useful information.

“The media has an important impact on our life,” Szczepanczyk said.

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