Administration, Industry Lobbyists Say Coupon Program Looking Good

July 20, 2007
The federal official in charge of administering $1.5 billion in $40 coupons for DTV converter boxes acknowledged to a roomful of women and minorities this week that his job ahead was tough, but he’ll reach as many people as possible, no matter where they are or what language they speak.

John Kneuer, who runs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said at a panel discussion at a Minority Media Telecommunications Council conference July 17 in Washington that in the next month, NTIA will award a contract to someone to run the voucher program including call centers, Web activity and an education program for non-English speakers and other hard-to-reach groups—and to start issuing the vouchers January 1. And, NTIA is partnering with other federal operations and civic groups on educational materials and translations.

But Kneuer has only $5 million for education—enough for a couple of Super Bowl ads and some office equipment. So private entities like the big trade groups are joining in the mission, he said.

Most of Kneuer’s fellow panelists—the top dogs from the NAB, CEA and NCTA, moderated by Grand Alliance chief Dick Wiley—expressed confidence that the analog shut off will go smoothly.

Andrew Jay Schwarzman, president of the Media Access Project, broke up the lovefest.

“It’s just a train wreck coming up,” he said. “And the people who are going to hurt are the people at the bottom.”

His fellow panelists pointed to the big picture of the DTV transition—the tens of billions of dollars in deficit reduction, and the freeing up of valuable spectrum for first responders and rural broadband, and the development of HDTV.

“People who watch television, and have an interest in television, are going to be reached,” said Kneuer. “And there is going to be financial assistance for those people who need it.”

Kneuer dismissed Schwarzman’s comments as passionate but apocalyptic, and “not super-super productive.”

Schwarzman said the public would need millions of pamphlets in bodegas, Laundromats and supermarkets.

“It’s simply not realistic to expect the private sector to do what’s needed here. This really calls for a governmental program,” he said. “We’re talking about delivering vouchers to the people who are too old, too poor, don’t speak English as a first language, who for those reasons are the hardest people to reach. PSAs are not going to do it.”

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