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Commerce Committee Wants Antenna Answers, Info

Time was, Congress thought all America needed for the DTV transition was those subsidized converter boxes.

Now, Congress has gotten the FCC and broadcasters to fess up: "Oh, those reception issues!"

Thursday, a bipartisan group of House Commerce Committee members wrote FCC Chairman Kevin Martin urging specific focus on antennas and reception.

The lawmakers noted that 20 percent of calls to an FCC hotline on Sept. 8, the day of the Wilmington, N.C., early analog shutoff, came from consumers with technical problems, some of which were due to inadequate or incorrectly positioned antennas. Projected over a nation of 112.8 million TV households, the Wilmington numbers would play out to 564,000 calls on Feb. 18, with 20 percent or more reporting technical problems.

The lawmakers also said the nation can expect more, not fewer, problems in the rest of the country than in Wilmington, with its flat terrain and unprecedented educational effort.

The lawmakers offer a four-point strategy for the FCC:

  • Establish a public/private/nonprofit information campaign on the antenna issues;
  • Encourage Americans to buy and install converter boxes ahead of the February transition;
  • Update FCC Web site information to clearly explain antenna issues;
  • Expand the FCC call center to address antenna issues.

The letter was signed by 12 Democrats and two Republicans. The Democrats are Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (Mich.), Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (Mass.); Rick Boucher (Va.), Charles Gonzalez (Texas), Jay Inslee (Wash.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Edolphus Towns (N.Y.), Frank Pallone (N.J.) Bart Gordon (Tenn.), Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Lois Capps (Calif.). The Republicans are Barbara Cubin (Wyo.) and Heather Wilson (N.M.)