Speaking at the panel of policymakers at the National Cable Show, John Kneuer, an acting assistant secretary of the federal National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), warned that both government and the TV industry are far from being able to ensure a smooth transition when broadcasters turn off their analog signals and return the spectrum to the government for other uses.
Analog TV sets will require some sort of adapter or set-top to receive the new digital signals. "We are at the beginning," Kneuer said, "and we're going to need lots and lots help to get that done."
Congress has given NTIA money to educate the public, but it's a miniscule amount: $5 million. The government also plans to subsidize some set owners who will have to buy adapters.
National Cable Telecommunications Association Senior VP Dan Brenner, who moderated the session, went as far as asking the Federal Trade Commission's Jonathan Leibowitz if consumer-electronics manufacturers are illegally deceiving customers by continuing to sell analog TVs that could be useless in 2009.
"I would have to defer to staff, but I don't think so," said Commissioner Leibowitz, whose agency is responsible for consumer-protection enforcement.
The panel touched on other regulatory issues such as indecency (FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein advocates "the least-restrictive means of protecting our children from indecency") to city governments' funding wireless Internet systems that compete with cable's high-speed data business (Kneuer says the administration would want strong justification to interfere).