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Dems Call For DTV Ed Now

Powerful Democrats have told the FCC that 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. They have given the FCC until June 11 to report back with a plan. They also want to know the commission's role in overseeing that plan, and a detailed accounting of how it will 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 in a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the FCC should consider using its authority to compel the industry to begin the campaign now.

They said the agency could require TV broadcasters to air public-service announcements (PSAs) or scroll information and compel cable operators to insert bill stuffers about the transition and subscribers' viewing options. It could also require 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 “comprehensive consumer-education program with a unified message, a clear chain of command, concrete and measurable goals, and mechanisms for oversight and accountability,” the letter said.

Dingell and Markey also said the FCC, not the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, should take the lead.

Said an FCC spokesman, “We received the letter yesterday, and we are reviewing it.”