Digital Television (DTV) Transition Could Cost Consumers

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Brad Ashwell

Florida PIRG

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TALLAHASSEE – In one year, 22 million Americans who rely on free over-the-air analog broadcasting – including many elderly and other vulnerable populations – will be at risk of losing access to TV, which for many is a primary source of news and emergency information as well as entertainment.

On February 17, 2009, all TV stations will begin broadcasting exclusively in digital signals. If you have an older analog TV and  Consumers with cable or satellite service will not be affected. you receive over-the-air television, your TV will go dark, unless you retrofit it with a digital converter box.

Many consumers are just now hearing about the government-ordered digital transition and they are going to electronics retail stores to ask questions about what is necessary to maintain their TV reception.

Florida PIRG, along with other state PIRG’s recently conducted “secret shopper” surveys at 132 electronics stores in ten states – including Tallahassee, Florida – to determine if America’s big electronics retailers are properly preparing their customers for the digital transition.  The results were released today in Florida PIRG’s new report: “Mixed Signals: How Retailers Mislead Consumers on the Digital Television (DTV) Transition.”

“The results of our survey are clear,” said Brad Ashwell, Consumer Advocate for Florida PIRG. “Many retail sales clerks are not well informed about the DTV transition. As a result, they are providing inaccurate information that will ultimately cost consumers time and money.”

It is important to know that next year’s change does not require any household to purchase a new television set.  Households with older sets still receiving analog signals via antenna need only purchase a basic converter box that costs approximately $40.  And, the government is offering up to two $40 coupons per home to offset the cost of the most basic converters.

However, some sales clerks tried to persuade PIRG’s “secret shoppers” to buy new, expensive digital televisions or premium converters, which will not be covered in the government’s coupon program.

“To consumers, it does not matter whether sales clerks were intentionally misleading our secret shoppers to sell more expensive items, or if they were simply misinformed,” continued Ashwell. “The result is the same: consumers will pay too much for unneeded equipment or services.

Nationally, almost half of sales staff surveyed did not provide accurate information on the date the transition would take place – answers ranged from “sometime soon” to “probably not until 2010.”

Here in Florida we found the following:

  •     100% of sales staff provided inaccurate information about converter boxes.
  •     100% of sales staff provided inaccurate or no information about the coupon program.
  •     80% of sales staff provided inaccurate information about the transition date.

“To protect consumers against misinformation or fraud,” said Ashwell, “retailers must provide proper information about the converter boxes they sell and about the government-sponsored coupon program that is designed to offset the cost of the converter boxes.  They must also properly label analog TV sets that are still on their shelves with warnings informing buyers about the need for a converter box after next February.”

To be safe consumers should seek information on how the transition will affect them before they enter an electronics store.”

Additional tips for consumers are included in the Florida PIRG report, downloadable at Consumers can also go online at or call the free government number 1-888-388-2009 to find out more about the government-sponsored coupon program.