The Committee will examine U.S. readiness for the nationwide transition from analog television broadcasting to digital television (DTV) broadcasting.
With the transition less than a year away – set for February 17, 2009 – the hearing will focus on consumer awareness, the role of broadcasters and the Federal Communications Commission, and the status of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration converter box program.
Daniel K. InouyeSenator
Our nation relies on television for news, information, and entertainment. Yet with February 17, 2009, only ten months away, too many Americans remain in the dark about what the digital television transition (DTV) means.
Nothing makes this point clearer than a recent Consumers Union survey which found that 74 percent of consumers who know about the DTV transition have major misconceptions about what it means to them.
The same survey found that a staggering 73 percent are unaware of the government program created to offset the cost of purchasing converter boxes. I find these numbers very troubling.
The FCC and the NTIA have been charged with ensuring that the DTV transition proceeds smoothly. The stakes are high, and it is imperative that these two agencies make the success of this transition their number one priority.
I realize there are a number of important challenges facing the FCC including the question of how to proceed with the auction of D Block. I have deep reservations about the FCC spending its limited time and resources in media areas unrelated to the transition. Meanwhile, the NTIA is challenged by the Administration’s push for a third leadership change at the agency within the past year. I urge both agencies to keep an eye on what is most pressing, and to proceed cautiously when you choose to spend time on what is not.
To ensure that you focus on the task at hand, I ask that both the FCC and the NTIA provide the members of this Committee with a monthly status report regarding the status of the DTV transition, highlighting your accomplishments as well as your continuing challenges. I request that you work with our staff to coordinate the details.
Ted StevensSenatorMr. Chairman, thank you very much for holding this hearing and thanks to Chairman Martin and Secretary Baker for appearing today.Our nation faces a historic change in less than one year, and Americans will reap the benefits from this transition, in my judgment. First public safety will receive an additional 24 megahertz. Second, public safety will also receive critical funding from the proceeds of the digital transition and third, viewers will enjoy DVD quality signals and increased programming through multi-casting.It’s crucial that government officials, industry, and consumer advocacy groups maintain a continuous drumbeat throughout this next year in outreach efforts. I am particularly concerned that elderly viewers and rural and remote residents may not be adequately informed. The residents in Alaska’s villages are the most remote people in this country, and they have the same right to receive information about the transition as Americans who live in large cities.In that view, my office has been trying to help out by working with local groups such as our broadcasters, AARP reps, Native groups, senior centers, and the postal service to ensure that the message about the converter box program is getting out to Alaskans. We have also made the converter box applications available through my website and my district offices.But, there are particular issues that need the attention of our witnesses. I am pleased that would come and be with us today. I hope to learn about several problems. First it is my understanding that the current coupon program does not allow applicants to use a post office box address on their converter box applications. This is of particular concern to residents in our state because, in many instances, a post office box is the only address that they have.Secondly, many are concerned that there are only a limited number of converter box models, 7 I am told of the 66 certified converter boxes, that have an “analog” pass through capability which is a capability that is important in areas that receive broadcasting from low power stations and translator stations, that is what I have been informed. That situation is in many places in rural America.Finally, Mr. Chairman I am pleased to hear the FCC has listened to concerns that have been raised previously regarding the undue burden that small cable operators could face if they are required by the FCC to carry both an analog and digital signal. The capacity of their systems is so small that such a requirement threatens to put them out of business, resulting in the loss of local jobs and the loss of cable for many viewers in rural parts of the country. I commend and thank the FCC for responding to that issue and taking a look at it.I look forward to learn how your agencies are addressing these problems and other issues. And, I encourage both of you to consider the digital transition the number one priority issue during this whole year, rather than take on new burdensome issues that do not have the same critical aspects and are not subject to the critical countdown that is involved. I don’t want to get offensive but there are other issues that are just not time sensitive, ala-carte for instance and net neutrality. In my judgment they are solutions looking for a problem. But we have a major problem; the major problem is digital transition. I hope we all keep our eye on that problem. If we work hard together I think we can get the job done. We here have brought about this problem and we know the solution can only be achieved through the hard work of everybody concerned. So we look forward to working with you and thank you very much for being here.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Kevin J. MartinChairmanFederal Communications Commission
Ms. Meredith Attwell BakerMember-DesignateFederal Communications Commission