January 9, 2009 in City

Grant will help seniors navigate TV conversion

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Two Spokane-area social service groups will give technical assistance and advice to seniors who need help dealing with the Feb. 17 digital TV transition.

Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington will use a $10,000 grant to help people in this area apply to get coupons for a TV converter box, to buy one of the boxes, or to find someone who will show them how the converter works.

The federal government has told broadcasters they must end all over-the-air TV signals on Feb. 17. As the deadline nears, President-elect Barack Obama has begun urging Congressional leaders to postpone the switch. No action has been taken yet.

After the switch takes effect, rabbit-ear TV sets will need a converter box to receive digital signals, which most stations already are broadcasting. Consumers using cable or satellite services are not affected.

Aging and Long Term Care obtained the grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Assistance will be available only for residents of Spokane County who qualify.

Spokesman Michael Hilborn said that money will be spent on outreach and on hands-on assistance to ensure residents are better prepared for the February switch.

The assistance will be provided by Spokane Neighborhood Action Program, which offers a host of programs serving seniors in the community.

SNAP staff will work on helping people with coupon applications, help them find retailers that sell the converters and then assist seniors in setting up the converters.

Connecting the converter box to a TV set is not complex, Hilborn said. But the next step, programming the box, can be daunting.

“It’s almost as though you need someone younger than 20 to do that,” he said, jokingly.

Outreach will be conducted through area senior centers and other groups, including Eldercare. They’ll focus on finding procrastinators, along with people who haven’t had the means to obtain a converter, Hilborn said.

Congress recently learned that money set aside for coupons to defray the cost of buying TV converters has run out. Congress will debate setting aside more money for the coupon program.

Despite more than a year of advance warning, Hilborn said it’s natural to find many area seniors have not yet readied themselves for the digital conversion.

Spokane County has about 66,000 people aged 60 and older. Nielsen audience studies say about 17 percent of all TV households in Spokane County rely on older rabbit-ear TV sets.

Contact Tom Sowa at (509) 459-5492 or toms@spokesman.com.


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