Broadcasters: DTV PSA Mandate Unnecessary

Hearst-Argyle’s Barrett Testifies Before House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee

Broadcasters told the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Wednesday that neither Congress nor the Federal Communications Commission needs to force broadcasters to air digital-TV-transition education public-service announcements.

That came in prepared testimony from Hearst-Argyle Television president David Barrett for the second of two October hearings on the DTV transition.

Wednesday's hearing featured a variety of industry stakeholders, following up on an Oct. 17 hearing with government officials, including from the FCC and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

For his part, Barrett said the industry effort would involve more than PSAs and would be a tailored, multifaceted effort that "will be more effective than any government-mandated plan."

House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) praised the broadcasters' effort but also said it should include "a sufficient number of public-service announcements aired at times when they are most likely to be seen by viewers, including primetime."

Broadcasters have said there would be primetime PSAs, but they would not quantify them, saying that the campaign was tailored to each market -- a point Barrett echoed. He also said broadcasters were willing to report to the FCC quarterly and to modify the campaign if need be.

As part of that campaign, Barrett told the committee in his testimony that the National Association of Broadcasters would send out DTV-education "tool kits" to 7,200 state legislators, secretaries of state and the mayors in the 100 most populated cities.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin proposed mandating a schedule of broadcast PSAs, and some legislators are ready to step in, as well.

Barrett also warned against allowing unlicensed mobile devices in the DTV-broadcast band -- an issue broadcasters have been lobbying hard on. But rather than saying that the devices should never be allowed, Barrett said it would be "premature" to authorize them until "testing confirms that they work in “real-world conditions, the digital transition is complete and viewers have new reception equipment in place to receive digital-television signals."

That would mean not until 2009 at the earliest.

Martin has said that the FCC should not authorize the devices without further testing to make sure that they do not interfere with DTV reception. Initial FCC tests found such interference, but one of the devices was said to be faulty and the FCC is retesting.