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Reaction Pours In on DTV Date Move - Broadcasting & Cable

Reaction Pours In on DTV Date Move

Broadcasters, regulators, and legislators weigh in on digital move
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Related: Congress Changes DTV 'Hard Date' to June 12

Within minutes of the House's passage of a bill to move the DTV transition date from Feb.17 to June 12, reaction was coming in from broadcasters, regulators and legislators.

"The passage of this bipartisan legislation means that millions of Americans will have the time they need to prepare for the conversion," said White House spokesperson Amy Brundage. "We will continue to work with Congress to improve the information and assistance available to American consumers in advance of June 12, especially those in the most vulnerable communities."

"The legislation passed by Congress provides more time for Americans to prepare for the DTV transition and will allow more time for the government to fix the coupon program. We appreciate members of Congress for their leadership and swift action in ensuring viewers get continued access to free, over-the-air television," said National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr in a statement. "America's broadcasters, which have spent the past decade preparing for this historic transition, are ready to make a successful switch."

Adding his congratulations was bill supporter Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "Less than a month out, we have over two million households still waiting for their coupons and millions more with expired coupons in hand," said Chairman Kohl. "I am relieved that both chambers of Congress have passed this vital legislation so that seniors and many other Americans aren't left in the dark."

While seniors are one of the target populations for special help with the transition, Nielsen surveys have shown that the 55-plus demo is actually more ready for the transition than younger demos, a point made by Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee during debate on the bill's passage Wednesday.

And this from Senator John Kerry (D-MA) one of the bill's co-sponsors in the Senate:

""We've got to make sure the transition to digital television is done in a way that protects consumers," said Kerry. "A short delay will give us time to work through the problems left by the Bush Administration and help ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible without disrupting critical services such as emergency broadcasting announcements. I'm glad my colleagues in Congress and President Obama agreed that a delay was necessary and took action to protect the millions of consumers at risk of losing their television signal."

Also on the bill's welcoming committee was acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps: "I welcome Congressional passage of the DTV Delay Act," he said in a statement. "It has long been clear to me--and it's even clearer since I became Acting FCC Chairman two weeks ago--that the country is not prepared to undertake a nationwide transition in twelve days without unacceptably high consumer dislocation.

"The additional four months provided by the law affords urgently-needed time for a more phased transition, including a consumer-friendly converter box coupon program, stepped-up consumer outreach and support--particularly for vulnerable populations--and dealing with coverage, antenna and reception issues that went too long unaddressed.

"We've got a lot of work to do, but thanks to great leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives, we now have an opportunity to do it better."

Fellow Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein was happy with the decision.

"I applaud the action by Congress to give us more time to get the digital TV transition right," he said. "We remain far from ready, despite the heroic efforts of FCC staff, performing under great odds and inadequate leadership.  As I've said before, this national transition has been mismanaged and plagued by the lack of a coherent and coordinated strategy. 

"More time was desperately needed to correct the mistakes that many, including leaders in Congress, the Government Accountability Office, and every current member of the FCC, have long raised. 

"Moving forward, we need to re-establish the converter box coupon program, make sure we are prepared to answer the flood of phone calls we can clearly anticipate, and establish a field operation to provide on the ground assistance to those who need it.  The extension to June 12, 2009, gives us time to complete the work already begun under the leadership of Chairman Copps, with the full support of all of us on the Commission.  "

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, whose concerns about problems with the FCC's call center were invoked in the debate on the side of delay, was not on the welcoming committee exactly, but said he was ready to do what he could given Congress' desire to move the date.

"Today, a majority of the directly elected representatives of the American people, the U.S. Congress, has clearly expressed its desire to postpone the deadline for the cessation of analog full-power television broadcasts to June 12, 2009," he said. "I look forward to joining my two colleagues, Acting Chairman Copps and Commissioner Adelstein, in quickly implementing the will of the Congress. I know we will do all that we can to minimize the inevitable disruption and confusion this transition will cause. In the meantime, let's all stay on message: if you need a converter box, get it today and hook it up today and start enjoying the benefits of digital television today."

Wednesday's debate was notable, in once sense, for its absence of some of the most familiar faces on the Democratic side when it came to overseeing the DTV transition, but that didn't stop one of them, Ed Markey (D-MA) former chairman of the Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, from adding his applause and a reminder that he had been all over this issue.

"I applaud the passage of this necessary legislation," Markey said. "It is unfortunate that Congress had to take additional action on this issue, but the prospect of leaving millions of consumers in the dark was simply unacceptable. This was a foreseeable problem and should have been anticipated and acknowledged by the Bush administration long ago. However, the Bush administration simply left us with insufficient time to make the needed adjustments on a national basis without this short, one-time delay. I commend President Obama for his swift actions on this critical issue."

In the e-mail containing the comment, Markey's office pointed out he had expressed his concern about lack of funding as far back as 2005.

Another veteran of the DTV transition is former House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell.

"Today's vote to delay the DTV transition was necessary to prevent a looming consumer crisis in which millions of Americans would have been left without television service when analog broadcasts cease," said Dingell Wednesday. "Currently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's digital converter box coupon program has a waiting list for nearly three million coupons, which is the result of NTIA's mismanagement of the program during the previous administration. I am pleased that the DTV Delay Act includes provisions to increase funding for this vital program and look forward to working with the Obama administration to see that it is equitably administered and properly overseen."

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