Programming

DTV Switch on U.S.-Mexico Border Concerns Reps.

Democratic leaders of House Energy & Commerce Committee write FCC, NTIA. 9/26/2008 07:03:00 AM Eastern

The Democratic leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee fired off another digital-TV-related letter to the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, this one about the problems along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The letter, headlined by Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Telecom & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), asked both to focus DTV-education efforts on the border area, given some of its unique challenges, including encouraging them to tune to U.S. broadcasters for emergency information.

The letter also presupposed that a bill that would have allowed U.S. TV stations to continue broadcasting in analog, as well as digital, for several years after the transition is not going through.

"After the DTV transition, most Mexican stations will continue to broadcast only in analog format, and all full-power U.S. stations will broadcast in digital format,” the letter said. “Because many of the Spanish-speaking households near the border watch both U.S. and Mexican television, there appears to be much potential for consumer confusion."

English-language broadcasters opposed the bill but said if it passed, they would probably have to continue in analog to remain competitive with Spanish-language stations that opted to continue in analog.

The latest letter (reprinted below) follows one from Dingell and Markey with several more recommendations on how to refine the DTV-education message.

Dear Chairman Martin:

We commend you on completing the digital-television-transition test in Wilmington, N.C. It is our hope that the lessons learned in Wilmington will help to ensure a smoother transition for the rest of the nation.

We are now less than six months from the nationwide DTV transition. Among the many challenges posed by the DTV transition is ensuring that U.S. citizens living near the Mexican border are adequately informed of and prepared for the transition. The Mexican-border areas are different from most other areas of the country, both culturally and because residents of those areas are often able to receive U.S. and Mexican over-the-air television signals. After the DTV transition, most Mexican stations will continue to broadcast only in analog format, and all full-power U.S. stations will broadcast in digital format. Because many of the Spanish-speaking households near the border watch both U.S. and Mexican television, there appears to be much potential for consumer confusion.

The commission wisely elected to focus its general DTV consumer-education efforts on those markets where reliance on over-the-air television is relatively high, and we support those efforts. While most, if not all, of the markets in the border region fall into that category, the commission must take extra care to target its message to households in these areas. We understand that many Spanish-speaking households in the border region can be characterized fairly as low-income, and their ability to purchase new digital televisions or to subscribe to a pay TV service therefore may be limited. These households will require converter boxes to continue to receive the signals of U.S. and Mexican stations on analog televisions after Feb. 17, 2009.

Fortunately, most retailers are now only stocking converter boxes with the analog pass-through feature that will enable households along the Mexican border to receive both U.S. digital signals and Mexican analog signals on their analog sets. The unique situation in border communities, however, suggests that these households would benefit from targeted education efforts concerning the availability of a government subsidy -- available only through March 2009 -- for a converter box. In addition, consumers should be reminded of the importance of receiving public-safety information from U.S. over-the-air broadcasters. As recent hurricanes and wildfires in the border region have shown, receiving accurate weather and other public-safety information is crucial for all families in this region of our country.

The situation in the U.S.-Mexican border area deserves the commission’s special attention. We should do all that we can to ensure that every consumer is informed and ready for the transition and that every household that needs to is able to take advantage of the converter-box-coupon program. Thank you for your consideration.

September
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