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CR Survey Finds DTV Confusion

Washington — Despite growing awareness of the pending cut-off of analog TV broadcasts, consumers continue to show significant confusion on the matter, a study conducted by Consumer Reports has found.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a national telephone survey Dec. 13-16, 2007 of 1,013 households with young adults aged 18 and older. The poll (with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent at a 95 percent confidence level) found that 74 percent of respondents were aware of the transition, but have major misconceptions about its impact.

In addition, over one-third (36 percent) of Americans living in households with TVs are entirely unaware of the transition to digital television in Feb 2009, the study showed.

“Confusion about the digital television transition will cost consumers a lot of money for equipment they may not want or need,” stated Joel Kelsey, Consumers Union policy analyst. “Based on these survey results it is now clear that the government and every media company that profits from consumers watching television must do whatever it takes to help consumers keep getting broadcast TV, without paying a dime more than necessary.”

Among those consumers who are aware of the transition, 58 percent said they believe all TVs will need a digital converter box to function, 48 percent believe that only digital televisions will work after 2009 and 24 percent believe they will need to throw away all of their analog television sets; none of which is true, the study showed.

According to the Consumer Reports study, 99 percent of adults live in a household with at least one television, and many have two or more. Some 15 percent of Americans live in households that rely exclusively on over-the-air programming.

These consumers must take action prior to Feb. 17, 2009 to avoid losing TV signals, such as acquiring a DTV converter box, buying a digital TV or adding cable, satellite or telco TV service.

According to poll results, 78 percent of those who rely on over-the-air broadcasts (23 million adults, representing 11 percent of the adult population) will have no televisions able to receive a signal after the cut-off date, Consumer Reports said.

Other areas of confusion could also present problems after the analog-TV cut-off date, Consumer Reports said.

For example: of those who will have at least one TV affected, 61 percent incorrectly believe they are not affected, do not know that they are affected or are completely unaware of the transition.

In other cases, consumers may be unwittingly making unnecessary upgrade equipment purchases. The study showed that one-third (33 percent) of consumers completely unaffected by the transition also plan to buy a converter box and 31 percent plan to purchase a new digital television set with a built-in digital tuner.

“Although purchasing a converter box is by far the most popular action planned by those aware of the transition, a staggering 73 percent are unaware of the government coupon created to offset the cost of purchasing one of these boxes,” Consumer Reports said.

Among paid television subscribers using analog TVs to receive their services:

  • 40 percent would have no working televisions if they choose to cancel their subscription, or if there is a service disruption;
  • 6 percent have at least one analog TV on which they currently watch over-the-air programming;
  • 46 percent would be concerned if they were not able to receive an over-the-air signal in an emergency service outage.

The group said public education efforts underway may be inadequate, pointing out that the federal government has allocated $5 million and $1.5 million in public education funding to the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), respectively. In contrast, the United Kingdom is allocating $450 million on its public education campaign, Consumer Reports stated.