Digital TV and Seniors

It’s December 1st, and the holiday shopping advertisements are deafening. A great many of the ads are for HDTVs (high-definition television). Advertisers would have us believe that, unless we buy an HDTV, and preferably now, we will not be able to see any television after February 17, 2009 when the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 takes effect Well, that’s not exactly true – although the way we hook up our TVs may be different in just over a year.

I am particularly worried about some of the most vulnerable people in my community as this looming change in television occurs. Among the vulnerable are senior citizens, who have lived through the evolution of television from click-clicking channel changers, through the discernment of which programs are in “living color” to remote controls. Senior citizens have endured changes in entertainment and room arrangement brought by the televisions that have come into their homes. They struggle to translate bundled cable service bills and Dish network telemarketers who promise features that in truth if they installed they’ll almost surely never learn how to use. My octogenarian family members still can’t understand why they could not watch their favorite Green Bay Packers when their Thursday night game was hijacked by the proprietary NFL network.

The Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act will require full-power television stations to cease analog broadcasts and switch to digital after February 17, 2009 and will free up much needed spectrum for advanced wireless broadband services and interoperable communications among emergency first responders. Television viewers will benefit because digital television provides consumers with a clearer picture and more programming options.

In order to watch “over the air” programming and realize a clearer picture (of negligible benefit to many), all consumers will need to make one of three choices:
1. Purchase a TV with a digital tuner (not affordable to many)
2. Subscribe to a cable or satellite provider and comply with any special appliance or hook-ups that the provider prescribes (not required by many who live near broadcasting stations)
3. Purchase a digital converter for the analog TV they currently own

The Digital TV Act authorizes the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) of the Commerce Department to create the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program, administer distribution of the coupons, and carry out consumer education. The Act provides that each household can get up to two $40 coupons to be applied to the purchase of digital converter boxes.

So, while even my eyes glaze over as I ponder the realm and advisability of the possibilities, I am afraid for senior citizens, who are still trying to choose among and cope with complicated drug insurance programs. I fear that many with limited income will fall victim to over-zealous charlatans and buy televisions or appliances that they can neither afford or learn to operate. Still more will just give up on the televisions that provide them with diversion and entertainment in often limited or lonely environments.

As I’m pondering this dilemma on a snowbound afternoon, I am considering how libraries can partner with senior organizations to provide the information that seniors as well as all our customers can use to navigate through these new circumstances.

While I think many are woefully ignorant of this pending change, I expect that libraries will step up to provide valuable information and help community residents get through it. After all, we did survive Y2K!