General and Policy and Politics and Spectrum
Ashley on 27 Jul 2007 10:14 am
The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday on consumer education for the DTV transition set to occur on February 17, 2009, which is the hard date set for analog TV signals to be turned off. On that day, analog TV’s that receive over-the-air signals only will go dark, and whether or not consumers are prepared with converter boxes or new TV’s depends solely on how well informed they are. Sen. McCaskill said it best: “No anger compares to the anger of Americans who can’t get their TV.” A little dramatic, but she has a point- Americans are not going to be happy if this transition does not go smoothly.
John Kneuer, of NTIA testitfied at the hearing and faced some tough grilling from Senators about the need for more consumer education. NTIA has $5 million to spend on consumer education. To put that in perspective, the UK is also currently transitioning to digital, and it is spending $400 million on education, while the city of Berlin spent $1 million to educate just 3 million people about its 2003 transition. Berlin’s transition went smoothly, and the U.K.’s looks to be headed that direction as well- 80% of consumers know about the transition and the analog cut-off date. In the U.S. on the other hand, only 10% of Americans are aware of both the transition itself and the cut-off date.
So whose responsibility is it to make sure that consumers are knowledgeable about the transition? According to Kneuer, its industry’s responsibility. He said during questioning that while $5 million is a limited amount, the vast majority of education will be done by companies that have a vested interest in a smooth transition, such as broadcasters and cable and satellite providers. Also, when questioned about the amount of traffic on the agency’s DTV consumer education site, he explained that currently, people go first to the NTIA site and then to other industry sites, but he hopes that the tables will turn so that company information sites are the first stop for consumers (which would probably behoove consumers- compare the DTV Transition Coalition site with that of NTIA).
Never-the-less, those with internet access are not likely to be the ones most affected by the transition. Nowadays, odds are, if you have an internet connection, you have a triple play package that gives you digital cable, or at least have analog cable. I, along with many of the Senators on the Commerce Committee, am concerned about the estimated 21 million homes that rely on over-the-air television for news, weather, sports, and entertainment. Many of these people are economically disadvantaged, elderly, or non-English speaking. NTIA, the FCC, and industry all have initiated efforts to reach out to these communities, but with only 10% of the population aware of the transition date and less than six months before coupons for converter boxes are to be distributed on January 1, 2008- it is unlikely that these often disenfranchised communities have been reached.
Although the agencies and industry are the ones finagling over the logistics of this responsibility, Congress is likely to bear the brunt of the blame if things go wrong when TV’s go dark in ’09. The Committee is right to be concerned, and it is probably in Congress’ best interest to oversee this transition to ensure that disenfranchised populations and everyone else are well informed of the transiton and their options.
Dish Disclosure: Our firm represents Comcast on set-top-box issues.