Leaving Millions of Latinos Out of the Loop—Digitally Speaking…

Can you guess what is disenfranchising thousands of Latinos right now at this very moment?  No, not oppressive electoral laws in Arizona.  Nope, not “No Match-No Vote” laws in Florida.  And no, it’s not the lack of Spanish language ballots in heavily populated Hispanic counties.  It’s something less electorally conspicuous, and perhaps less obvious.  In 1996, Congress passed legislation to authorize TV broadcasters to begin transmitting their free television signals over digital airwaves and stop transmitting them on analogue airwaves starting in February 17, 2009.  That means that if you are on the poor side or if you think you shouldn’t be paying for TV (that’s why many of us see our favorite shows online!), you probably have rabbit ears and may be out of luck since your TV can no longer get pick up the new digital reception.  You’re probably wondering how in the world does this disenfranchise a Latino voter?  Well, Hispanics, like most (except for us Millennials), get most of their news from TV, but what if they no longer have access to news on TV?  What happens then?  The answer is simple: disenfranchisement.  Many Latino families still rely on free television to keep up to date on news.  But this chaotic transition seems to have some last minute good news though.  Congress just extended the official transition date to June 12.  But, and there is always a but, despite this extension, 400 television stations across the country have shut off analog signals this week.  It is estimated that this mess will catch 6.5 million households unprepared for the digital transition, of course affecting the elderly, Latino, and low-income households disproportionately.  Only stations directly owned by the major broadcast networks including ABC, CBS, Fox, Univision, and NBC/Telemundo have agreed to transmit analog until the new deadline, but many stations are independent affiliates and they will do what they want regardless of the new June deadline!  So if their taking away free TV, how can Latinos stay informed? Doesn’t this affect their ability to remain educated citizens?  Won’t this further disenfranchise more people if they can’t stay connected as they traditionally do?  It’s already hard enough to keep up to date about local and state elections, ballot initiatives, and issues.  The bottom line is that this unfunded mandate is unacceptable for our communities.  The Federal Communications Commission has done the best they can with the resources they were given, and God bless them for that.  But it’s just not enough.  There is some respite in the digital TV transition; the economic stimulus has millions of dollars in monies allegedly going to educating at-risk populations about the digital transition.  Let’s hope the money gets to the right people and that it’s put to good use to educate and empower those who really need it.

-Rudi Navarra

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