DTV transition is on, er, something


The transition to digital television is moving along just as expected, or it isn’t, largely depending on whether you sit on the Democratic or Republican side of the aisle in the House of Representatives. However, it can be stated generally that progress is being made. Whether there is enough progress would be the question.

Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) boiled down key remaining issues to three: "the need to ensure that the converter box program is working smoothly, the need to understanding how many households will lose service because of the anticipated difference in geographical coverage for individual broadcasters after the switch to digital, and concern about how consumers of the hundreds of low power television stations that will not be converting to digital will be affected." In general, Democratic members of the committee felt much more needs to be done to educate consumers.

Ranking member Cliff Stearns (R-FL) was more at ease with the pace of the transition. He had a veritable encyclopedia of statistics to support his belief that market incentives put in place earlier are working fine, and that consumers are getting the word about the transition. He warned against any major changes, and particularly objected to mandating analog pass-throughs in digital-to-analog converter boxes, saying such moves would jeopardize the whole project.

Two key witnesses at the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet were the FCC’s Kevin Martin and NTIA’s Meredith Attwell Baker. Both said they are making positive forward progress toward the DTV deadline date of 2/17/09.

Under the new federal budget, Martin has 20M to use for public education, and announced the contracting of PR firm Ketchum to play a major role in public education. He also will do everything he can to encourage that LPTVs shift from analog to digital before the analog cut-off date.

Baker noted that the allocated funding for the coupon funding may turn out to be adequate, but anticipates requesting phase two of the allocation in advance of need so there is a seamless flow of cash. Further, Baker said NTIA does not want to mandate analog pass-through in all converter boxes, but wants to encourage all manufacturers to have at least one model with that capacity, and that all retail outlets offer at least one model.