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FCC Orders DTV Transition Education Effort

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a DTV Consumer Education Order requiring television broadcasters, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), telecommunications carriers, retailers and manufacturers to promote awareness of the nation’s transition to digital television.

The FCC also said it will assist the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in ensuring that retailers are getting digital-to-analog TV converter boxes on shelves.

The mandated activities and reporting procedures for those efforts come after increased pressure from some members of Congress who want to ensure that consumers are aware of the upcoming analog TV broadcasting cutoff in time to make necessary adjustments. Previously, FCC chairman Kevin Martin had encouraged voluntary industry education efforts.

The FCC said the educational efforts are intended to “provide consumers with clear and correct information about the DTV transition.”

Under the order, broadcasters must provide on-air information about the DTV transition, and have the flexibility to comply with one of three alternative sets of rules to best serve their communities. They are also required to make quarterly public reports to the FCC on the efforts.

The three rule alternatives were developed as a compromise to broadcasters who opposed the mandates. Those alternatives include the following:

1) air a series of public-service announcements and onscreen crawls with increasing frequency as the Feb. 17, 2009, date for the switch to DTV for full-power stations approaches;

2) follow a schedule of 16 public service announcements (PSAs) and 16 crawls or tickers a week as suggested by the National Association of Broadcasters; or

3) (for non-commercial stations only) air 60 seconds per day of consumer education in various time slots, including at least 7.5 minutes per month from 6 p.m. to midnight, with that requirement doubling as of May 1 then increasing again Nov. 1.

Low-power-TV stations were not included in the mandated effort, but the FCC urged them to alert viewers if they will not be switching to digital.

Multichannel service providers are required to provide monthly notices about the DTV transition in their customer billing statements.

Manufacturers of television receivers and related devices must provide notice to consumers of the transition’s impact on that equipment. partners and winners of the 700 MHz spectrum auction must provide the FCC with regular updates on their consumer education efforts.

Telecommunications companies participating in the Low Income Federal Universal Service Program must provide notice of the transition in their monthly customer billing statements to their low income customers and potential customers.

The mandates run through the end of March 2009 and apply to both the analog and primary digital channels.

The FCC said, “The DTV transition will provide consumers with better quality television picture and sound. It will also make valuable spectrum available to significantly improve public safety communications and will usher in a new era of advanced wireless services such as the widespread deployment of wireless broadband.”