equity and the tv converter supply chain

TV is going digital (and only digital) on February 17, 2009. If you’re using bunny ears on an old TV like yours truly, you’ll need to buy a converter. I just applied for a coupon for $40 off a converter.

I am worried about the government underestimating the demand for the converters or the possibility of a interruption in converter production, leading to shortages. This is troubling because the government doesn’t appear to have a system in place to ensure equity in who receives converters. It appears that those who can’t afford to upgrade to cable, if there is a converter shortage, will be at a disadvantage in acquiring a converter. There are several obstacles for those in need:

  • The application is available online. If you don’t have access to the Internet, there are other options, such as a hotline or going to the library, but these instructions are available online. However, there is some hope, because the government is “working with its partners to make applications available in the places where it makes the most sense for each community.”
  • You have to provide several pieces of information to obtain a converter. The only one that insures equity is whether you already subscribe to cable, satellite or other pay television service. However, there is a reserve set of 11M coupons only to be given to households without cable service.
  • The converters will primarily be available in box stores. Box stores are abundant in affluent and suburban areas, but rare in poor, urban, rural areas. If there is a shortage, the affluent can drive around from box store to box store until they find a converter. Those who rely on public transportation won’t have this option. There are some telephone providers, but they will likely require a credit card number, which will also be problematic with people at need.

The government has ensured that those who need a coupon can get a coupon, but this assumes that there are enough converters to go around and that everyone knows that they need to apply for a coupon. I have my fingers crossed.

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