Austin's DTV Divide

We're counting down the final days to the June 12 transition to digital broadcast television. There has been added urgency to the effort because Nielsen reports that Austin is one of the worst prepared cities in the nation.

The May 24 DTV report reports that 4.81% of Austin-area households are unprepared, as compared to 2.66% nationwide. That means approximately 30,000 central Texas households could lose television reception when the transition occurs.

This isn't just about watching American Idol and Conan O'Brien. It's a serious public safety matter. Television remains the most widely used resource for important news and information, such as current weather conditions. In the event of emergency, necessary information may not reach households cut off in the transition.

Six months ago the media was full of stories about DTV. Now, not so much. I talked to a major media reporter yesterday, and he told me his readers are pretty sick of hearing about it.

I think what's happened in that time is that DTV has changed from a technology story (sexy!!!) to a social issue story (boring!!!). Nielsen reports the demographics most at risk are black, Hispanic, and youth. (My untested hypothesis is that a lot of the youth demo is people who have moved to other outlets such as the net and don't care so much if broadcast TV breaks.) Here in Austin, I suspect the largest risk groups are low-income, senior, and non-English speaking. It's hard not to play the racism and classism card here. It is, however, one of the most compelling explanations about how this story suddenly got boring to the general public.

Jun 3 Update - In the couple days since I posted this, there has been a marked turnaround in interest. I was at a DTV Walk-In clinic all morning today, doing live standups with News 8 Austin every half hour. I also talked to KXAN and the Statesman. Other media have shown interest too. The increased attention is heartening.