Communities of color left in the dark on DTV?


Representatives from more than a dozen Twin Cities ethnic, community, and mainstream media outlets gathered on Wednesday to discuss the impending switch from analog to digital television (DTV). The organizers of the meeting–The Mainstreet Project, New America Media, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights–hoped to spread the word to communities of color about the switch to DTV.

For more information about converter boxes and coupons, see Don’t let your box go blank. And, for another perspective, see My 85-year-old dad has rabbit ears.

The change to DTV is scheduled for February 17, 2009, but the Obama transition team has been pressuring Congress to delay the switch. Because the government has run out of funds to fully finance the process, the Obama team argues, the transition will leave many Americans without access to functioning TV. Congress has not set a date to vote on the DTV transition and will most likely not do so until Barack Obama takes office next week.

As February 17 approaches, Congress and others are asking just how many Americans, particularly communities of color, are ready for the transition to digital TV. Viewers have the option of buying a new digital TV, paying for cable or satellite TV, buying a new converter box, or getting a government certificate good for $40 off the price of a converter box.

DTV Resources

Mainstreet Project
DTV resources and training materials

Assistance Centers:

Lao Assistance Center
503 Irving Avenue North, Suite 100A
Minneapolis, MN 55405
(612) 374-4967

Main Street Project (In partnership with Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project)
2104 Stevens Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55405
(612) 879-7578

Other DTV assistance available from Minnesota 4-H DTV Team

Efforts to provide the public with the certificates are still underway and the money for certificates has run out. More certificates may become available as old ones expire without being redeemed.

Minnesota 4-H has more than 30 DTV assistant teams statewide and has been helping Minnesotans with the transition for months. Their website reads: “The TV Converter Box Coupon Program has reached its funding ceiling. However, coupon requests from eligible households will be filled as funds from expiring coupons become available. If you would like to apply for a coupon today and are eligible, you will be placed on a waiting list and will receive coupons on a first-come-first-served basis as funds from expiring coupons become available.”

Not an encouraging message for those assisting hard-to-reach communities with the DTV transition.

Zuag Kimberly Chang, a reporter for Hmong Today, said that the level of preparedness for DTV varies greatly in the Hmong community and often depends on age.

No Cost Box Campaign
Steven Renderos of the Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project told the Daily Planet that MMEP and the Mainstreet Project have launched a campaign to convince Target to provide what would be essentially no-cost converter boxes. Here’s their pitch:

• Target was chosen, as a local retailer, to approach for the possibility of negotiating a possible “No Cost Box”

• A “No Cost Box” would entail an opportunity for a family to swap their valid $40 government coupon for a converter box without any additional costs.

• Our goal is to set something up where for a specified period of time they offer a No Cost Box, that could be a day, two days, etc.

• We’ve set up an online petition where folks can sign up.

• We’re also gathering signatures in a postcard campaign from folks that may not have access to the internet, and so far we’ve gathered over 100 postcards and counting.

“I think within the Hmong community we are incredibly diverse,” she said. “There are some people that know exactly what is going to happen on February 17, and then there are others that have no idea that this is coming and for them this will be total blackout.”

Getting government certificates is particularly delicate within the Latino community, says Juan Carlos Alanis, senior associate editor of Latino Communications Network. Alanis says it is difficult to get Hispanic immigrants to give personal information for the census, let alone for a converter box certificate.

“I’m not sure, but I would imagine that [within the Latino Community] there is going to be a total black out after the switch,” Alanis said. “The main problem is going to be gaining the people’s trust.”

This is a tall order with one month to go.

Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva ( is community editor for the Twin Cities Daily Planet and contributes reporting.