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FCC Proposes DTV Education Campaign Benchmarks

The FCC last Saturday approved a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on various proposals to hold the broadcast and cable industries to benchmarks for DTV education campaigns.

The TV industry has pledged to mount a campaign to make sure that viewers know the analog-to-DTV switch is being thrown on February 17, 2009, and what their viewing options are after the transition. However, many legislators are worried because the PSA campaign has not started yet, and the statistics show that only 10% of viewers currently know of the February 17 date.   FCC Chairman Kevin Martin revealed the NPRM to legislators at an FCC oversight hearing in the House Telecommunications & Internet subcommittee this week. The FCC proposals were prompted by aletter from Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey and Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell  (D-Mich.).

 "Just last week, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on several DTV education initiatives that were originally suggested to us by Chairmen Dingell and Markey. This NPRM seeks comment on requiring broadcasters, multichannel video programming distributors, retailers and manufacturers to take certain actions to publicize the digital transition," said FCC's Kevin Martin.  "I intend for the Commission to complete this proceeding expeditiously."

Martin didn't say what the FCC's proposed benchmarks are, but they are expected to mirror some of the recommendations from Markey and Dingell in a letter to the chairman. 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.

At a Senate hearing on the DTV transition Thursday, several legislators called for the FCC to quickly establish benchmarks for the industry. Markey and Dingell also wanted the FCC to compel the industry to begin their PSA campaigns now.

Beyond the FCC's recently adopted requirement that retailers display a “consumer alert” about analog-only sets, the FCC has taken only a 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,” Markey and Dingell wrote in their letter back in May.