FCC’s Martin Steps Up to Bigger Effort on Consumer Ed for DTV
WASHINGTON, DC – Considering that the 2009 DTV transition will be a big deal for many American consumers, some of whom will need to obtain set top converter boxes or make the decision to buy digital televisions (see previous blogs, here and here), it may seem very odd to you that our elected representatives in Congress have provided for only $5m in funding to support consumer education. And that money was made available to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an arm of the Dept of Commerce. The logic? That organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters and Consumer Electronics Assn. would fund big consumer campaigns to educate America. But there’s been a lot of re-thinking about these 2006 decisions in Congress, particularly about whether a privately funded campaign will reach all Americans equally. On May 24 of this year, House Commerce Committee leadership sent FCC Chairman Martin a letter asking him what his independent regulatory agency was doing, and could do, to enhance consumer awareness and education about the upcoming transition.His answer easily could have been…”you are barking up the wrong tree…Congress gave that responsibility to my colleagues at NTIA…if you want the FCC to participate, pass a law.” But that was not his response. Instead, in a detailed letter that has been released on the House web site… Chairman Martin has stepped up in a big way to address what Congress rightly has identified as a problem – a comprehensive federal plan to educate the American public about the DTV transition and what it means to their TV viewership. Martin’s letter lists an array of consumer education efforts his agency has already undertaken with no financial support from Congress, and outlines plans to do more, much more, to reach segments of society who are likely going to need extra help to understand the transition and what it means for them. And Martin was clear — if you, the Congress, want more done, we’ve got 10 ideas for every one of yours, and all we need is the money to fund them. He’s likely to get it. The House Financial Services Committee has already crossed out the $1.5m line item that Martin requested for consumer education and replaced that number with $2m. And maybe, if Congress likes what it sees, it will extend that support further. Kudos to the FCC and Congress for spotting the issue and figuring out how to address it.