Watchdogs, some senators have DTV doubts


By and large, representatives from the NTIA and FCC think that the groundwork for the DTV transition is going forward as it should. But a number of member of the Senate Commerce Committee aren't so sure, and members of the watchdog community also have some questions. The session was notable for its lack of principal players from the broadcast, cable, satellite and consumer electronics industries, who are expected to do much of the heavy lifting to make the DTV transition a reality, but Chairman Dan Inouye (D-HI) said they will all be invited for a second panel on the topic to be held in September. Inouye was one of the doubters, noting that Great Britain is spending some 400M on citizen education and outreach, against only 5M earmarked for the task by US politicians.

John Kneuer of NTIA and Cathy Seidel, Chief of the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, outlined their similar approaches to the problem, in particular their efforts to make sure that all constituencies get the facts they need about digital-to-analog converter box coupon program and other facets of the switch. Kneuer was asked by John Sununu (R-NH) if there was a fresher number and the June 2004 estimate that 15% of all US households are analog-only. He said there is no one number, but that the trend is for that number to be whittled down as the 2/17/09 deadline approaches.

AARP's Nelda Barnett worried that older Americans less likely to update their equipment, therefore less likely to get info from retailers. Lack of mobility and equipment installation may be troublesome for the elderly. National Hispanic Media Coalition President/CEO Alex Nogales said that converter box terminology has been translated four different ways by four different government agencies, and that everybody on the same page to avoid confusing Hispanic consumers. Nancy Zirkin, VP/Director of Public Policy, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights argued that Congress must push this harder. 5M isn't nearly enough for public education campaign.

SmartMedia observation: We're with Sununu. He noted that broadcasters and other interested parties have their economic health at stake and he is sure that motivation will get them working toward a smooth transition. He also noted the possibility that the 1.5B or so allocated for converter coupons may wind up being more than is needed to meet demand. We don't know that we'd go that far, but it certainly is a possibility. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked about targeting analog-only TV users. Seidel talked about various outreach efforts, but the simple answer is that people who watch TV will find out what they need to know by watching TV. They will be self-targeting.