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FCC Calls For DTV Comment

Washington — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on potential digital television education initiatives.

Among other things, the NPRM seeks comment on requiring broadcasters, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), retailers and manufacturers to take certain actions to publicize the digital transition. Such measures are intended to facilitate the upcoming transition to digital broadcasting on the congressionally mandated Feb. 17, 2009, transition deadline.

A successful completion of the digital transition depends upon ensuring that appropriate policies are in place to minimize the burdens and costs borne by consumers, the FCC said.

It also depends on government and industry working together in promoting consumer awareness.

“The consumer outreach must be conducted in a serious and coordinated way,” stated Commissioner Michael Copps. “Web sites and pamphlets are fine, but they’re not going to get the job done. The best way to reach analog television viewers is through analog television programming.

“While voluntary efforts are welcome, compliance should not be left to chance or patchwork decisions by individual licensees,” he continued. “This is especially true in 2008. With space at a premium in a presidential election year, many licensees may be tempted to ease off their DTV education efforts and let others take the laboring oar. There must be a predictable and enforceable baseline to which all licensees adhere.”

He endorsed a proposal from John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), House Telecom Subcommittee chairman, to require televised public service announcements and rolling scrolls alerting viewers to the upcoming transition.

Similarly, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said, “I’m disappointed that it has taken the Commission nearly a year and a half since the Feb. 17, 2009, deadline became law to begin to take seriously its obligation to inform the American people about the impending DTV transition.

“Nevertheless, I’m pleased that, after more than a little nudge from Chairman Dingell and Chairman Markey, this Commission is finally asking the right questions about how we — the Commission, broadcasters, cable operators, consumer electronics retailers and manufacturers — can leverage our respective resources to deliver a coordinated message to the American people,” he continued.

Adelstein called for “creating a federal DTV transition task force with the National Telecommunication and Information Administration to leverage the existing resources of the entire federal government, and to develop a unified, coherent message among all levels of government.”

The digital transition will make spectrum available for both public safety uses and expanded wireless competition. It will also provide consumers with better quality television pictures and sound, and make new services available through multicasting.

These innovations, however, are dependent upon widespread consumer understanding of the benefits and mechanics of the transition.

The NPRM seeks comment on proposals to help convey the timing, logistics and benefits of the DTV transition to consumers, including: broadcaster public service announcements, and other consumer education requirements.

It also includes: reporting notices in cable, satellite, and other MVPD bills; notices from consumer electronics manufacturers; employee training by consumer electronics retailers; and adjustments to the partners program.