The government's DTV transition plan does not provide any money for new DTV antennas and lacks a technical assistance component, which could prove to be a problem for some viewers still connected to rabbit ears, says one worried legislator.
"The major challenge I see is the fact that some of the outdoor antennas are going to have to be replaced and we don't have any federal funding available to assist with that replacement," said House Telecom Subcommittee member Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who was being interviewed for C-SPAN's Communicators series.
Boucher said he had lots of rural, elderly, low-income constituents who would have some major challenges with issues like reception via indoor and outdoor antennas.
Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has recognized that some viewers may have reception issues due to changes in coverage areas, but said that would wind up being less than one percent of viewers given that most folks get their TV stations over cable or satellite.
But Boucher said that he expected that north of 10% of his constituents would need to replace their outdoor antennas. "That's going to be costly and people are not going to be happy." Boucher said that the antenna was not taken into account in the planning for the transition.
He also said that many people won't know how to hook up their DTV-to-analog converter boxes. "If you are buying a converter box at a place like Wal-Mart, we all know that the people who are selling you that item are not going to come to your house and show you how to attach the converter box." Boucher said that "there really is no source of technical assistance" as part of the government DTV transition program, he said.
"I'm very concerned about how those two inadequacies in our federal program are going to translate into consumer angst, disruption and disconnection."
Boucher suggested that the government could take some of the $20 billion in spectrum auction proceeds and "enhance the coupon program, provide technical assistance. He also wants the government to pay for the hardware and labor for replacing antennas.
Boucher took aim at the FCC's test of the DTV transition in Wilmington, N.C., saying it might have been better to do several test markets. Boucher said that Wilmington was a fine place for a test, but that it had limitations. "Wilmington is on the coast; it is flat terrain; this is not a rural area where there are mountains that could cause interference problems.... What we learn from Wilmington may be applicable to flat terrain. I don't think it is going to be very applicable to districts like mine."
But even if Wilmington reveals a host of problems, Boucher does not favor moving the Feb. 17, 2009 DTV transition date. "Too many plans have been made around that date," he said.
Boucher opined that the government only provided $5 million in DTV education funding out of the $1.5 billion it set aside for the DTV converter box program. But he said that broadcasters are doing a good job of picking up the slack. "To their credit, I think broadcasters are doing a good job," he said.