Daniel K. InouyeSenator
“The DTV transition, scheduled for February 17, 2009, is now less than five months away. For the past 18 months, Members of this Committee, Democrats and Republicans, have been consistent in expressing their concern that the transition to digital television has not received enough attention or resources to ensure its success. While federal agencies and industry have stepped up their efforts, I continue to be concerned that they are not fully prepared for the flood of coupon requests and calls that we can expect just before and after the transition.
“The DTV transition is taking place for the best of public policy reasons. Once the transition is complete, we will free up needed spectrum for our emergency first responders to use in order to better serve and protect the American people. In addition, consumers will have higher quality pictures and sound, and more channels to choose from.
“February 17 will be the 29th day of the next Administration. The DTV transition has the potential to cause serious disruption not just to consumers, but to a new President who will just be getting his feet wet. Neither a President Obama nor a President McCain should have to deal with a failed transition, so soon after coming into office.
“I am deeply concerned that the benefits of the transition may be overshadowed by poor implementation. As the recent test in Wilmington, North Carolina, demonstrated, even with a Herculean investment of time and resources that will be impossible to replicate throughout the rest of the country, consumers made thousands of phone calls seeking help with various aspects of the transition. On a national level, this may translate to millions of calls. Unless more is done, February 17, and 18, and 19, will be very long days indeed.
“We have limited resources and limited time. What I hope to hear from our witnesses today are the creative ideas they have to overcome these limitations and their plans to address the potential flood of calls, questions, and coupon requests around the date of the transition.
“These are immediate and significant challenges, and we must find a way to overcome them. I urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to make the DTV transition a high priority and not let attention be diverted by pursuing contentious proceedings. As the current Administration winds down, both agencies must remain vigilant so that the next Administration does not inherit a communications crisis.”
Kay Bailey HutchisonSenator
Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing. First, I want to thank the witnesses for all they have done to carry out this effort. By most accounts, we are making tremendous progress.
NTIA’s efforts to coordinate the distribution of more than 30 million coupons to the television watching public are without precedent. I want to thank the FCC for heeding the repeated calls of this committee to make the digital transition its top priority this year and hope they will maintain this focus in the months ahead.
I am eager to hear about the efforts of the other federal agencies – today we have a witness from Health and Human Services testifying. I would also be interested in knowing what other agencies NTIA and the FCC are working with.
We have come a long way and overcome a number of bumps in the road. We can be grateful, for example, that residents of nursing homes are now eligible to receive coupons to defray the cost of converter boxes and that there are a wide variety of converter box models for consumers to choose from.
Nevertheless, there are gaps that we must work together to close in the few months we have left. We learned this week that NTIA will need to access additional administrative funds to finish the job, in part to deal with an expected surge in requests for coupons as the transition date draws closer.
Also, we are hearing that many large retailers are not carrying the lower priced converter boxes. In my state of Texas many fixed and lower income residents need converter boxes for the transition and I worry about the cost of preparations. I believe it is vital that consumers have a variety of models and price ranges to choose from.
I know that Chairman Martin has reached out to retailers to encourage them to carry lower priced models and I applaud that effort. I will be asking for an update. Also, my staff and I have spent considerable time in the Rio Grande Valley reaching out to the Spanish speaking community – I will ask today’s witnesses to update us on their outreach efforts to these communities.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Kevin J. MartinChairmanFederal Communications Commission
Ms. Meredith Attwell BakerMember-DesignateFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Bill SaffoMayorWilmington, North Carolina
Mr. Mark GoldsteinDirector, Physical Infrastructure IssuesU.S. Government Accountability Office
The Honorable Josefina CarbonellAssistant Secretary for AgingU.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging