GAO Report: DTV Transition Uncoordinated

Echoing criticisms already leveled in Hill hearings, a Government Accountability Office report said there is not sufficient government coordination of the digital-TV-transition plan.

The report was released by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, who said the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications & Information Administration would be wise to heed the report's advice and come up with an action plan.

“Today’s GAO report provides the latest high-resolution picture of the transition underway," Markey said while releasing the report Tuesday. "Given the high stakes for consumers, public safety and wireless innovation posed by this transition, the GAO’s call for the FCC and NTIA to develop an overarching strategic framework for success is one that these agencies would do well to heed.”

Markey cited the report’s conclusion that the FCC had taken no more than a first step toward developing a plan, rather than the blueprint that was needed at this stage of the process. In the report, the GAO suggested the creation of an overarching authority for the transition.

“The GAO contends that simply providing a laundry list of completed regulatory tasks is not the same thing as having a comprehensive plan,” Markey said, agreeing with the assessment and saying that he expected the FCC and NTIA to "take its recommendations with the utmost seriousness."

John Kneuer, former head of the NTIA, who has since been replaced by acting head Meredith Baker, told a Hill hearing audience in September that, by statute, no single entity was in charge of the transition.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin circulated a proposal to the other commissioners that mirrors DTV-education mandates on broadcast and cable operators that were suggested by Markey and House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.).

FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein echoed calls from Hill Democrats for the creation of an overarching authority similar to that proposed in the just-released GAO report. Adlstein weighed in on the report. " This GAO Report confirms what I've been saying for well over a year.  The FCC does not have a strategic plan for the DTV transition. There is not even a plan to come up with a plan.  Only the FCC appears to be in a state of denial over what the GAO is telling us.  Rather than making excuses, we need to come up with solutions.  We need to establish an interagency task force now, and we need to reinstate our internal FCC working group immediately."

Responding to the report in a letter to the GAO, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez echoed Kneuer's concerns with a central command and control authority, saying, "The solution is not the establishment of a digital-transition czar or single government-mandated message."

Broadcasters, too, have argued that there is no one-size-fits-all education plan, but one that needs to be tailored to each market.

The FCC released its own report in reponse to GAO Tuesday. "As we explained to the GAO, the FCC has been planning for the DTV transition for more than 20 years," sais the commisison in the introduction to its report. "Indeed, as we further explained, many of the DTV deadlines and milestones that Congress established were built around the FCC’s own timeline for implementing multiple aspects of the transition."

In addition to complaining that GAO had not included the FCC's lengthy response as part of the GAO report, Martin said in a letter to GAO that he had "significant reservations and concerns with the report's approach and conclusions."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.