McCaskill Weighs In on DTV-Education Efforts

Missouri Freshman Senator Pushes FCC, NTIA

Freshman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, added her voice to those asking the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications & Information Association to boost DTV-education efforts.

In letters to both as a follow-up on a July hearing on the transition, McCaskill asked the FCC to make broadcast public-service announcements mandatory and to require satellite and cable companies to issue DTV-transition information with their monthly bill statements.

The FCC put similar proposals out for public comment in response to pointed suggestions by top House Democrats John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), but McCaskill said time is of the essence.

"I am concerned that the Federal Communications Commission is not acting with appropriate urgency,” she wrote in a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin. “With the transition just 18 months away and coupons available in five months, the time for proposals is over and the time for action is upon us.”

Saying that one in five Missourians rely on over-the-air TV, McCaskill told Martin, "It is imperative that the word about the digital-television transition reaches Americans who rely on over-the-air television as soon as possible, especially since coupons for converter boxes will be available by statute Jan. 1, 2008."

The NTIA is overseeing that converter-box program and, in her letter to NTIA chief John Kneuer, McCaskill urged it to do field-testing of the boxes, said she was worried that it had not done enough to publicize the program and asked for a month-by-month plan of how the program, which launches in five months, will be advertised and a "summary of the specific commitments you have secured from the broadcast community to run PSAs."

The coupons must be ready to be issued by January 2008, but there is no requirement that the converter boxes will be ready by then. McCaskill asked for a list of manufacturers and any commitments they had made voluntarily to have the boxes on store shelves.

The NTIA outsourced administration of the program, including consumer education, with the winning bid expected to be announced within the next couple of weeks.