Obama is Right to Ask Congress to Delay the Digital Conversion


The Obama transition team is asking Congress to postpone the transition to digital broadcast set for February 17 because of concerns that the Commerce Department has run out of money to subsidize the purchase of converter boxes.  Consumers who don't currently have either cable or satellite service or a TV with a digital tuner will need to have converter boxes to continue to receive a signal following the conversion.  A particular concern is that many such consumers are elderly, lower income and/or live in rural areas, and that these groups will be adversely affected if the conversion isn't delayed until the government can provide coupons to assist in the purchase of required converter boxes.


Another important benefit of delaying the conversion, though, is that it would provide more time for TV manufacturers to set up take-back programs to recycle the old TVs that will be trashed ahead of the conversion in favor of new TVs with a digital tuner.  As the recent TV Recycling Report Card issued by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (of which NRDC is a member) indicates, the highest ranked TV manufacturer (Sony) received a grade of only B- - for launching the first national take-back program.  Nine manufacturers have no programs at all, and the remaining 7 received pitiful C or D grades.


Because the conversion is expected to result in a "tsunami" of old TVs (and the lead and other toxic components they contain) hitting municipal waste streams, any delay in its implementation - coupled with pressure on the manufacturers to improve their recycling programs - will benefit the environment and public health.


A delay would also provide additional time for those states that are currently considering e-recycling legislation to enact laws before the conversion.  Legislators in New York State, for example, are expected to make a big push this year to enact a comprehensive bill mandating that manufacturers of TVs and computers take back their products for responsible recycling at the end of their useful lives.  This law would be based on the New York City e-recycling law that NRDC successfully advocated for last year, which now provides for mandatory electronics recycling for half the state's population.  Knowing that they may have a little more time to pass a law in advance of the conversion may provide an important impetus to get the bill - which came closer to passage than many had expected last year - done this year.