FCC Votes for Government-Mandated DTV Consumer-Education Campaign

Federal Communications Commission Vows to Help National Telecommunications and Information Administration Ensure Retail Availability of DTV-to-Analog Converter Boxes 3/03/2008 09:50:00 AM Eastern

The Federal Communications Commission voted to require broadcasters, cable operators and others to undertake a government-mandated digital-TV consumer-education campaign, although there is some flexibility for broadcasters. It also said it will help the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to make sure that retailers are getting DTV-to-analog converter boxes onto the shelves.

Broadcasters opposed mandates but came up with a compromise proposal that the FCC took into account in allowing stations to pick from one of three options outlined in the order, which was released Monday: 1) airing a series of public-service announcements and on-screen crawls with increasing frequency as the Feb. 17, 2009, date for the switch to DTV for full-power stations approaches; 2) broadcasters can opt to comply with a schedule of PSAs, informational programming and other alerts volunteered by the National Association of Broadcasters, which proposed an average of 16 PSAs and 16 crawls/snipes/tickers per week; 3) for noncommercial stations only, this option would require them to air 60 seconds per day of consumer education in various time slots, including at least 7.5 minutes per month from 6 p.m.-midnight, with that requirement doubling as of May 1 then increasing again Nov. 1.

For all of the options, the mandates expire at the end of March 2009 and apply to both the analog and primary digital channels. There are also FCC reporting requirements for all options so that the commission can keep track of who is doing what.

The FCC did not adopt any educational-reporting requirements for low-power-TV stations but urged them to let viewers know if they are not switching to digital and asked everyone else involved in the transition to try to get the word out, too.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has emphasized voluntary industry effort, but he has also been under pressure from Congress to mandate some kind of educational campaign and reporting requirements.

According to the FCC, the new rules also say that:

• "Multichannel-video-programming distributors must 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-megahertz spectrum auction must provide the commission 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 FCC will assist the NTIA in ensuring that retailers are fulfilling their commitment to the converter-box program.”