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Texans Are Pushed to Get Government-Sponsored Coupons for TV

New America Media, News Report, Jun Wang Posted: Jan 19, 2009

Editors Note: Briefings for ethnic media on the planned transition to digital television and its impact on their communities were organized by New America Media as part of a campaign funded by the Leadership Council for Civil Rights. The following is a report by NAM writer Jun Wang on a briefing in San Antonio, Tex.

SAN ANTONIO More than 10 local ethnic media, grassroots organizations and government agencies came together Jan. 16 in the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center to launch a public education campaign on the need for converter boxes to make analogue televisions ready for the transition to digital broadcast. Federal assistance coupons are available for the purchase of the converter boxes.
San AntonioPanelists listen to members of the ethnic media in the brainstorming session
Photo by Jun Wang / New America Media

The event was sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), based in Washington, D.C., in partnership with New America Media. Organizers urged all Texans to get the $40 government-issued coupons to buy TV converter boxes and have them installed. Those whose with analogue TVs and do not have converter boxes or cable television will not receive broadcasts after Feb. 17 when all full-power TV stations in the United States switch to digital broadcasting.

Currently, 21 million households in the country are relying on analog TV. In Texas, 15.9 percent of households in Houston and 14.3 percent in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are not ready for the conversion. A lot of those are members of ethnic communities, according to a study by Nielson TV Viewer Research Company. The study shows 12.5 percent of African-American and 13 percent of Hispanic families are not prepared for the digital transition.

Its going to be crisis, said Tino Duran, ECO of La Prensa News, a local newspaper. A lot of his readers dont have the money to spare for a TV converter box, which usually costs from $40 to $70. Especially under the ongoing recession, he added. Duran promised to have his paper totally open to keep people informed of any help they could get.

Erica Swanson of the LCCR described the TV transition as a civil right issue, an access issue and an economic justice issue. The organization sponsors the DTV campaign in seven U.S. cities, including San Antonio, Tex., in order to reach more people affected by the transition every day.

In his PSA that his been published in various ethnic media newspapers nationwide Wade Henderson, CEO of LCCR, noted that although the transition marks a new triumph for communications technology, it may be crating a new digital divide.

To avoid the divide, the U.S. government is giving out more than 33 million coupons, worth $1.34 billion, which will be available until the last day of March unless funds are used up.
San Antonio 2Local Campaign Coordinator Imelda Morales cuts the ribbon
to celebrate the assistance centers' launch
Photo by Suzanne Manneh / New America Media

Those attending agreed that ethnic and other underserved communities are the most affected by the transition--and not only financially. Sarwat Husain, publisher of Al-Ittihaad News, a local Pakistani and pan-Muslim newspaper, said the main reason her 60,000 plus readers watch TV is for news and public safety information.

Diana Alcocer of San Antonios department of community initiatives, agreed: TV is the only form of [public] communication in the 79 nutrition centers in the city serving senior citizens.

I was an immigrant kid, and I know what its like not having a TV for two years, said Ernesto Olivio from Texas Media Empowerment Project. He said that encouraging people to apply for coupons takes local person-to-person contact. People from the immigrant community can easily be overwhelmed by a 1-800 number, he said.

Besides persuading Best Buy to lower some TV converter boxes to $40, Olivios organization is responding to all kinds of TV transition questions. Olivio himself answered 12 calls the morning of the briefing. None spoke English, and some didnt know they need to have a landline and an address other than a P.O. box to receive the coupons. Many low-income local families dont have a landline.

Imelda Morales, local campaign coordinator, said besides the huge Latino community, she and her colleagues have outreached to the African-American community on San Antonios east side. We want everybody to sigh up for coupon, Morales said. We ask them to donate it if they dont use it.

Immediately following the ethnic media convening, Morales along with local community partners had a ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the assistance centers launch.

For more information and to obtain converter box coupons, set up training, etc., residents in the greater San Antonio region can contact any of the local assistance centers:

Communication Services for the Deaf in Texas- San Antonio
7400 Blanco Road, Ste 130
San Antonio, Texas 78216

Texas Media Empowerment Project
922 San Pedro Ave
San Antonio, TX 78212
210- 228-0201

Esperanza Peace and Justice Center
922 San Pedro Ave
San Antonio, TX 78212
210- 228-0201

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