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Martin: Bill Mandating DTV-Education Reporting Would Be Helpful

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin told a pair of lawmakers that he plans to have a draft of FCC digital-TV-education proposals ready for a vote by the other FCC commissioners by the end of the month, but that a bill requiring broadcasters to report on their DTV-transition efforts and cable to provide bill-stuffers would be helpful.

While the commission has planned a meeting for Oct. 31, Martin told Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) -- ranking House Energy & Commerce and Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee members, respectively -- in a letter that he will put the proposal on circulation, which means that he will have approved it and the commissioners can vote to adopt it before the meeting.

The pair had written Martin for a DTV-transition-education update after the Democratic leaders of that committee had done the same. They made Martin's answer to their letter public the same day broadcasters are scheduled to unveil details of their DTV-education initiative. The cable industry has already announced a $200 million DTV-education campaign, and both groups have launched public-service-announcement campaigns.

Martin told Barton and Upton that it would be "helpful" to have the "additional authority" provided by Barton's and Upton's proposed bill, H.R. 608, which would require broadcasters to report to the commission every 90 days on their progress in informing viewers about the February 2009 switch to digital broadcasting, although it would not mandate any set number of PSAs they have to run. Cable would be required to include bill-stuffers on the transition. The FCC could levy fines for noncompliance.

Martin also told the legislators that the FCC's next report on video competition has been circulated among the commissioners for a vote and that it found that fewer than 20% of U.S. households rely solely on over-the-air broadcasting, although it could not break out how many of those had digital TVs that would not need DTV-to-analog converter boxes. Martin said he would modify the next competition report to try to ascertain that answer.