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Barton, Upton Seek DTV Answers from Martin

The ranking Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee and its Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee have asked Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin whether they should start moving a bill that would give the FCC express authority to mandate digital-TV-transition education initiatives.

In a letter to Martin, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) praised the FCC for its work helping to effect the February 2009 transition from analog to digital broadcasting, but they also asked for answers by Oct. 12 on DTV-education-related issues.

Arguing that there will be enough DTV-to-analog converter boxes to cover everyone who needs them, the pair said the focus needs to turn to education -- a point House and FCC Democrats have been making loudly of late.

Barton and Upton want to know when the FCC plans to decide what steps, if any, they need to mandate, which could include requiring broadcasters to air a certain number of public-service announcements, on-screen crawls, bill-stuffers in the case of cable and satellite and periodic reporting requirements.

Martin has said that he wanted to see how the voluntary efforts progressed first. But some people worry nonetheless that voluntary industry efforts may not be enough, Barton and Upton wrote, asking whether, if government outreach and industry efforts weren't sufficient, the legislators should start pushing a bill they introduced in January that would mandate industry education efforts similar to those the FCC has proposed.

They also want to know when the FCC will release new figures on what percentage of viewers are over-the-air only and will be most affected by the transition, pointing out that in 2005, according to the FCC, only 14% were over-the-air only and that the number would likely be going down.