Let’s review the facts. On February 17, 2009, full-power broadcast television stations will cease analog broadcasts. If you do not have a cable or satellite subscription, or you do not have a TV with a digital (ATSC) tuner, then you’ll need to get one or add a converter box that will received the digital signals and translate them to analog for your existing television. You can apply to the federal government for up to two $40 discout coupons to cover part of the costs of a converter box.
So far, so good. But the elderly make up a large portion of the population that is most likely to have an analog-only TV set and no cable or satelliate subscription. And here’s the Catch 22 on the converter rebate; you have to live at a residential address to get one. So individuals living in long-term care facilities are not eligible for a coupon, even though in many cases, these facilities do not provide television service to the residents. Yet these residents are among those most likely to rely heavily on TV for information and entertainment. By some estimates there are 1.5 to 2 million people residing in such facilities.
Wilmington, NC will face the digital broadcast transition the week after Labor Day in September, so residents there have just over a month to prepare. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) — hosts of the annual CES trade show in Las Vegas in January — is giving away “more than 100” converter boxes to residents of long-term care facilities who have televisions and rely solely on over-the-air broadcasts. The boxes are donated by Best Buy (Insignia brand), EchoStar (DTVPal brand), and LG Electronics (Zenith brand).
I don’t have data on the number of qualifying residents in “Wilmington, North Carolina, and the surrounding counties” where the CEA donations will go, but I’m guessing that 100 boxes won’t go very far. The city population alone is around 100,000 of which 19% are over 60. I would not be at all surprised if more than half a percent of those seniors live in long-term care facilities and meet the rest of the CEA’s donation criteria. As a result, I expect that the program will have more impact on awareness than it will in aleviating the overall problem, but it still is a positive step.
This also suggests an opportunity for a random act of kindness; if there is a long-term care facility in your town where residents provide their own televisions, consider buying a $50 converter box and ask the facility administration to give it to resident who would need it the most. It’s a give that will keep on giving all day, every day.