Larry Strickling told the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday that the DTV transition would be job one if he is confirmed as the new head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.
If the committee moves as quickly as it plans to, his nomination could be voted on by Wednesday, after which a full Senate vote could come quickly as well. That would likely see Strickling installed before the June 12 hard date for the cut-off of full-power analog signals, for which NTIA is handling the government subsidy coupon program.
Strickling did not talk about the DTV transition in his opening statement summary beyond thanking Anna Gomez, deputy administrator of NTIA, and senior advisor Mark Seifert, who he said had done a "magnificent job" with the transition and the implementation of the broadband grant program. Talking about the many important responsibilities Congress had entrusted NTIA with, he listed managing government spectrum, Internet governance, and implementing the broadband rollout program, all with an eye toward economic recovery and growth, innovation, and job creation.
He did talk about broadband as a priority. "We must do everything we can," he said, "to insure that all Americans have access to modern communications services. The Internet plays such an important day-to-day role in the lives of so many of us that those or our citizens who are not connected risk being left behind in terms of getting a modern education, competing for high-value jobs, receiving health-care and in so many other ways."
But the only major substantive question during his confirmation hearing came from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.), ranking Republican and co-sponsor of the bill that moved the DTV transition date to June 12.
"I want to hear from you that the DTV transition is your highest priority," she said. She pointed out that the committee, after "much discussion and much dissention among all of the interest groups," had agreed to delay the transition. But she said a lot of people had to make added investments because of the move and it had been a hardship "in many ways."
Strickling said it would "absolutely" be NTIA's highest priority.
He said that the transition would take place in a little more than three weeks (a little less, actually) and that the good news was that three million households that would not have been ready for the transition back in February (the original DTV transition date was Feb. 17) are ready now, he said, adding that the committee "should take comfort in the fact that the extension has well-served the public."
Strickling said NTIA believes there are enough coupons to provide to all unready households. He said it would not be surprising to see an upsurge in a request for coupons as June 12 approaches, he said, "everything would indicate" that there could be, at most, a "few days delay" in people getting coupons if there is such an upsurge.
"All signs look to be promising for a smooth transition on June 12 in terms of the coupon program," he said.
Strickling was not queried on NTIA's oversight of billions in broadband stimulus funds.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) did ask about broadband, but the query was to John Porcari, nominated as deputy secretary in the Department of Transportation. Klobuchar wants the government to coordinate road-building and improvements so that broadband wires can be laid at the same time.
She asked Porcari to weigh in. He agreed that there was a lot of opportunity to incorporate fiber with new construction and rehabilitation. He pointed out that he had already done that when he was with the State of Maryland and that had allowed the state to bet broadband to rural areas.
The hearing was chaired by a couple of different senators in the absence of Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), who was at home with an injured leg. Mark Warner (D-VA) chaired the first part of the hearing, but though he pointed out he spent 20 years in the telecommunications business before getting into government, he had to exit without asking any questions of Strickling and Aneesh Chopra, who was being vetted as well for the post of Chief Technology Officer.
Hutchison said that the committee planned to vote on the nominations Wednesday in executive session, and gave the nominees until 6 p.m. Tuesday to respond to written questions submitted by the committee.