NTIA’s Kneuer: No Single Entity Meant to Be in Charge of DTV Education

John Kneuer, head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, said that by statute, nobody has been assigned to take charge of the education campaign for the transition from analog to digital transmission (http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6480867.html), and that may be a good thing.

That came in response to a criticism from the Government Accountability Office, leveled at a Hill hearing earlier in the week, that no one was in charge.

Asked to respond to that criticism during an interview for C-SPAN's The Communicators, Kneuer said: "No one is assigned to be in charge. The statute does not create a government agency or government office. This transition is not a monolithic industrial policy established by the government that the government has explicit responsibility for. This is a transition that is being undertaken by the industries and the market participants.”

He continued, “The broadcast industry, the cable industry, the satellite industry, the consumer-electronics industries -- all of those parties and all of those industries have responsibilities and they have incentives to help their customers transition through this. What I have responsibility for as part of that transition is to provide this financial assistance."

That assistance is the digital-to-analog converter-box subsidy that will provide up to two $40 coupons per household toward two converter boxes ($60-$75, Kneuer said) that will allow analog-only TV sets to receive over-the-air signals after the February 2009 conversion to digital.

The NTIA is overusing the subsidy program, which it farmed out to IBM, and it was given $5 million for a converter-box-education campaign, which it subcontracted to Ketchum Communications.

Kneuer said government and industry were working collaboratively through the DTV Transition Coalition to educate viewers, but there are benefits to not having a "command and control" policy were a regulator "dictates to an industry participant: 'This is the explicit public communication message you need to do; this is how you have to do it.’"

He pointed to the cable industry's announced $200 million DTV-education campaign, saying, "If every communication that they were going to be making had to be approved or dictated by a regulator, maybe they don't make that voluntary commitment."

He also pointed out that different industries will have different messages. "Consumers have multiple choices to make," he said, adding that he was not "remotely" surprised that the cable industry would tout the fact that its subscribers would have a "seamless" transition, or for broadcasters to counter: "The best digital experience is over the air.

Cut the cord to cable. Why are you subscribing to those guys? the digital future is over the air and we want to reconnect with our customers directly.”

Democratic Federal Communications Commission members Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps have called for better coordination and central oversight of the FCC and NTIA DTV-transition-education efforts.

Responding to Copps' call for the FCC to take more of a lead in that coordination, Kneuer said the FCC "has an important role," but he wasn't sure the commission was "best-positioned to engage in a public-education campaign."

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.