Rockfeller Vows More Coordinated DTV Transition Effort

Says nation won't be ready for transition without a lot more help from the government and industry
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Look for the Senate Commerce Committee to try to come up with a more coordinated action plan for the DTV transition.

That was the message from Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.VA), who says the nation won't be ready for the transition without a lot more help from government and industry. Rockefeller will have a larger platform for his concerns since he will become the committee's chairman when the new Congress convenes in January.

"I firmly believe that our nation is not ready to make this transition without substantially more involvement from every level of government, the entire communications industry, and willing community organizations across America," he said Thursday. "At present, most experts agree that the transition will unleash a massive amount of consumer confusion."

In a statement on Senate passage of his bill to extend analog broadcasts--for emergency and DTV transition info only--for 30 days past the Feb. 17 DTV transition date, Rockefeller said the bill was "no silver bullet," then added: "Over the next few months, I will work with my colleagues on a more comprehensive plan of action to make sure millions of Americans receive the support and assistance they need to make this transition." 

Rockfeller said he was not focusing on fixing blame for how the transition had been run so far, but he wasn't reticent on what he thought of it. "There is no question the transition to DTV could have and should have been far better managed and far better planned," he said in a statement entered into the Congressional Record.
Below is his full statement:

"I rise today to discuss a very important change that is set to occur all across America on February 17, 2009: the final switch from analog to digital broadcast television called the DTV, or Digital TV, transition.

"In many respects this is not a new issue.  The wheels have been in motion on this change since 2005 – spurred by the horrible tragedy of September 11th which starkly highlighted our desperate need for a national, interoperable, communications network.  The transition to digital TV will free up spectrum for public safety use so the national emergency communications network America needs can be put in place.  

"But there have been serious concerns about our readiness to make the shift to digital TV and several of my colleagues and I have been raising red flags about this for many years now.  Not because we believe the change is a mistake, but because we believe that not enough has been done to prepare, to educate, and to help American consumers so that the screens on their television sets do not go black 88 days from now.

"What is the change from analog to digital broadcast?  Over-the-air broadcasters will send their signal over digital spectrum, not the analog spectrum that is currently used.  The change won’t affect consumers with cable or satellite TV – or those who have a converter box for their older analog TV set.  And the switch to digital will improve the definition and clarity of the TV picture.

"Why are we making this change?  Primarily to modernize our airwaves and use the more efficient digital spectrum for a smarter use of our limited spectrum resources for the public good.  The change will, again, free up critically needed spectrum so that we can move toward the nationally interoperable public safety communications network we need.  It will also allow over-the-air broadcasters to offer new and innovative programming and provide new spectrum for wireless technologies.

"The DTV Act was enacted as part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.  It directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require all full-power television stations to cease analog broadcasting following February 17, 2009.  That day is 88 days from now.  What this means – and let me be very clear – is that any consumer with traditional analog televisions (regular TV sets that use an antenna to get a signal) will not be able to watch free, over-the-air television without taking one of three steps to adapt their TV to receive a digital signal. The most common and least expensive way that consumers can adapt their TV will be to buy a digital-to-analog converter box to hook up to their analog television set.  While seemingly a highly technical issue to some, this is no small matter to the 10 million-13 million Americans who might well lose their TV signal on February 18th of next year.

"I firmly believe that our nation is not ready to make this transition without substantially more involvement from every level of government, the entire communications industry, and willing community organizations across America.  At present, most experts agree that the transition will unleash a massive amount of consumer confusion.  And when people are cut off from their televisions, it is not just a matter of convenience; it is a matter of public safety.  We simply cannot stand by and let people lose access to emergency alerts and public safety communications.    

"I am especially concerned because this transition is going to hit our most vulnerable citizens – the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those with language barriers – the hardest.  We risk leaving those who are most reliant on over-the-air broadcast television for their contact with the outside world literally in the dark.  These consumers are also disproportionately rural. 

"In 2005, the outgoing Administration and its proponents decided to leave almost all of the implementation of the transition to the private sector – broadcasters, cable and satellite companies, and consumer electronics retailers.  While there are claims that hundreds of millions of private sector dollars have been spent making Americans aware of the DTV transition, it seems that most Americans have no idea what it really is even if they have heard of it. New surveys suggest more consumers are growing aware of the transition, but consumers overall remain confused about what steps they need to take to prepare.  Consumer Reports magazine has found that 63 percent of Americans have major misconceptions about what steps they need to take to prepare. 

"The recent DTV transition test market of Wilmington, North Carolina demonstrated that even with extraordinary levels of outreach, some still did not know anything about the DTV transition.  I would note that Wilmington received far more attention than any market in West Virginia is likely to receive, or any other part of the country for that matter." 

"Even in the test market, several thousand people called into the FCC for assistance – they could not set up their converter box, they could not receive certain digital signals, or their antennae needed adjustment -- just to name a few of the problems.  Consumers, especially the elderly and those with limited English proficiency, are going to need help in managing the transition.  On February 18, 2009, those thousands of calls will become millions. 

"There is no question the transition to DTV could have and should have been far better managed and far better planned. But at this point, we must focus on fixing it not laying blame.

"Last night, I asked unanimous consent for the Senate to take up S. 3663, the Short-Term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness Act, as amended.  This piece of legislation will help make sure those consumers who fail to make the DTV transition by February 17, 2009 are not left without access to emergency information.  This bill will also allow those consumers to understand what steps they need to take in order to restore their television signals by allowing an analog signal to continue to be broadcast in each regional market for an additional thirty days past February 17th. 

"Mr. President, let me be clear -- this bill is far from a silver bullet that will fix all the problems associated with the transition.

"I can assure my colleagues that the new Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House are committed to protecting the American consumer.  Over the next few months, I will work with my colleagues on a more comprehensive plan of action to make sure millions of Americans receive the support and assistance they need to make this transition." 

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