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Boucher: More Funding Needed for Transition

Technical challenges remain for over-the-air viewers in the DTV transition and there’s no federal funding for the solutions, Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said Thursday.

Boucher, a member of the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee, said that even if there are enough coupons for everyone who wants a DTV converter box, some viewers will have difficulties installing the boxes and may not be able to easily resolve reception problems.

“We have absolutely no provision of federal help for technical assistance.” Boucher said at the Consumer Electronics Association Washington Forum.

“I think we’re going to need to provide some measure of help, some technical assistance funding,” he said. “We’re still a nation where a lot of people don’t know how to program their VCRs.”

He compared the U.S. DTV educational effort, and its meager federal funding, with the effort in the United Kingdom. There, he said, the country spent $600 million on education and is doing the transition market-by-market and station-by-station (within each market).

He pointed to an FCC estimate that 5 percent of over-the-air viewers will need improved antennas. “We have no funding in our federal program to replace those antennas,” he said. “It’s another problem for which we don’t have a solution.

Boucher said the transition is of special concern to districts like his—rural, mountainous, with sketchy TV reception and a significant population of poor and elderly.

“There are very few deeply held liberties in America, but the right to television coverage is one of them,” he said.

Later at the forum, the boss of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said the “unprecedented public-private partnership” in DTV eductaion was getting the job done and the administration wouldn’t support more funding.

“This has worked out well,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, acting administrator of NTIA, which is in charge of the coupon program. “The industry really stepped up, and everybody is educating their consumers as they need to.”

And, she noted, the expansive funding in the United Kingdom came from a television tax.

“We don’t want to see a television tax in this country, do we?” she asked, as the keynote luncheon audience responded, “No!”

“We don’t need any more money,” she said. “We just need everybody to step up and keep doing the great jobs they’re doing.”