Powerful Democrats have told the FCC they want a DTV consumer education campaign to start immediately, and that the FCC has the authority to require broadcast and cable companies to meet a host of benchmarks.
The heads of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Telecommunications Subcommittee argue that the DTV transition is being jeopardized by a "lack of leadership at the federal level" on consumer education, and have given the FCC to until June 11 to report back with a plan. They want to know the commission's role in overseeing that plan, and a detailed accounting of how it plans to spend the $1.5 million in consumer education money it asked for in its latest budget request.
The broadcast, cable and consumer electronics industries are already planning a coordinated consumer education campaign, but that is not expected to start until sometime in the fall or early 2008, with the argument that it would be more effective closer to the transition date.
But a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Commerce chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that the FCC should consider using its authority to compel the industry to begin the campaign now.
They said that the authority could include requiring TV broadcasters to air public service announcements (PSAs) or scrolling information, requiring cable operators to insert bill stuffers about the transition and their subscribers viewing options. It could also include requiring broadcasters to report every 90 days on their efforts, including the time and frequency of PSAs.
Beyond the FCC's recently adopted requirement that retailers display a "consumer alert" about analog-only sets, the FCC has taken few steps toward a "comprehensives consumer education program with a unified message, a clear chain of command, concrete and measurable goals, and mechanisms for oversight and accountability."
The democrats took Martin to task for a comment in which he said that the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, not the FCC, had primary responsibility for consumer education. NTIA is charged with overseeing the DTV-to-analog converter box subsidy. That is the government funded coupon program to make sure that analog-only sets still get a picture after the February 17, 2009, conversion to all-digital broadcasting.
The pair said that the government should not be "overly reliant on the good graces of industry" for that campaign, and that the FCC, not NITA, should take the lead.
"We received the letter yesterday and we are reviewing it," said an FCC spokesman.
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