One of the most under reported stories of the DTV transition is about how the  Spanish language US broadcasters within 50 miles of the Mexican border have succeeded in persuading the US Senate to exempt them from shutting their analog broadcasts for a full  5 years after the Feb 17, 2009 national analog TV shut down affects all other (standard power) TV broadcasters in the USA. If passed by the House or Representatives after the summer recess under H.R. 5435, and signed by President Bush, any TV station within 50 miles of the US border may continue analog broadcasting to a relatively small number of persons living by the US-Mexico border that are resisting using the government coupon program and the purchase a digital to analog converter.

Why a five year extension? Border broadcasters claim a number of non-English speaking Hispanics near the US border will opt to simply switch all their TV viewing to Mexican based legacy analog TV stations, depriving these U S broadcasters of viewers, which translates to lower ad revenues. The border Spanish language TV stations also claim their TV watchers would miss out on any future US emergency broadcasts due to their viewers’ decision to forego the DTV coupon program and the purchase of a converter box.

US Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) claims “many Hispanic households are still unprepared for the transition. In fact, according to a recent report by Nielsen, Hispanic households are among the least prepared for the transition…” he continues “According to Nielsen, 31.1 percent of El Paso’s households rely exclusively on antennas for reception. This is well above the national average, which stands at 13 percent, and is the second-highest rate in the nation, next to the Rio Grande Valley. This means that an estimated 94,000 El Paso households need converter boxes.

(Reyes continues) While the federal government has offered to offset part of the $60 digital converter boxes by providing each household with two coupons, thousands of residents have yet to purchase one. As of today, only 34,474 coupons have been redeemed in El Paso, representing only one-sixth of the number needed if each household in El Paso that relies on antenna reception requests both coupons from the government. With just over 200 days to go until the switch is made to DTV, these statistics reflect a very real and disturbing prospect – that an alarming number of El Pasoans will lose access to critical emergency alerts. With the severe weather and flooding our region has experienced in recent years, I am not willing to gamble and hope that approximately 60,000 households will soon flock to the nearest electronics store and pick up a converter box.”

Through public service announcements, television broadcasters (including the Spanish language stations) across the United States have been informing their respective viewers about the analog Feb. 17, 2009 shut off and the DTV coupon program. Apparently this is not sufficient enough for Rep. Reyes or the entire US Senate. The legislation  is called the “DTV Border Fix Act” and  passed the US Senate (just before their summer recess), by UNANIMOUS CONSENT.

The HD Guru ponders if the arguments made by Rep. Reyes could also be made for other special interest groups such as the fixed income elderly. After all the billions of dollars spent by broadcasters and tax paying consumers (for the coupon program and converters) for the US digital TV transition, doesn’t the public want a 100% digital transition?  Should special interest groups, for whatever reason, allow any TV stations to waste millions of watts of electricity by continuing their simultaneous analog broadcasts to sustain their business model?

If you don’t feel there should be exemptions to the national changeover, the HD GURU suggests contacting your Congress person prior to the vote which is planned after Congress returns to session from its summer recess.

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