DTV education a priority for Democrat leaders

House Democrat leaders want to know how the FCC plans to educate Americans about the transition to digital television.

In a letter last week to members of the FCC, House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-MI, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-MA, expressed concern that millions of TV sets could go dark without their owners understanding the reason why.

The lawmakers complained that the FCC has requested “a mere $1.5 million to inform 300 million American consumers about the digital television transition.” By contrast, they noted, Berlin spent more than $980,000 to educate 3.4 million citizens about its transition.

Dingell and Markey have urged the FCC to design and implement a sweeping educational campaign and submit the plan to lawmakers by June 11.

It has become clear, however, that electronics retailers are not as concerned as the Congressional leaders. The National Journal reported last week that at least one proposal was immediately panned by the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition, which represents Best Buy, Circuit City, Sears, Target and other stores.

The House members want the FCC and Commerce Department to monitor retailer compliance with the federal coupon program that will help citizens buy equipment needed to keep many over-the-air analog sets functioning. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is running the initiative.

In an interview last week with the Journal, however, Marc Pearl, the retailer coalition’s executive director, balked at requiring participating stores to detail employee training and consumer information plans. He said retailers were waiting for the NTIA to choose a contractor in August before deciding if they would get involved, and to what extent.