Bush Budget: $20 Million More for DTV Education

The federal budget proposed by the White House last week for fiscal year 2009 includes $20 extra million for the FCC for DTV education.

That adds to the $2.5 million announced last month for FY 2008 for the FCC’s education effort. The National Telecommunication and Information Administration has had $5 million to spend. And the cable and broadcasting industries have pledged efforts of nearly $1 billion.

But even if Congress approves the numbers, the FCC won’t be able to spend the money right away. FY 2009 begins in October 2008—less than five months before the end of full-power analog. And for the last few years, Congress has failed to pass the budget until weeks or months later. (The government keeps running on its previous year’s appropriations under so-called “continuing resolutions” in those cases.)

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the funds would still be helpful. “I don’t think the money will end up coming too late,” he said Thursday.

Overall, the Bush budget would increase funding for the FCC to $338.9 million, an 8.3 percent increase over FY 2008. The figures include incoming fees the FCC collects.

The request provides funding for an estimated 3 percent staff pay raise, effective January 2009.

The request would allow the commission to replace “Mobile Digital Direction Finding” vehicles used to support public safety entities such as emergency responders, police and fire departments in resolving interference to their communications systems. Those vehicles are also used to catch pirate broadcasters.

The commission said the requested funding would establish a program to expand FCC coordination and outreach efforts to the public safety community and consolidate licensing systems to improve processing of licensing transactions.

The offices of the commissioners would receive $6.8 million under the budget request, while the Enforcement Bureau asks for $46.4 million and the Media Bureau $29 million.

The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau would see $45 million, the International Bureau $21.5 million; Public Safety and Homeland Security $14.6 million; and the Office of Engineering Technology $13.5 million.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) called the DTV education budget too small.

“The president has proposed an additional $20 million for educating consumers about digital television. When added to the original $5 million that was allotted by the Republican Congress that enacted this program, this is far too little to educate a nation of 300 million people,” he said in a statement. “If we are truly concerned about the safety and security of our nation, we should not be attempting this transition on the cheap.”