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GAO tells the government to do more for DTV

The federal government's General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report last month with recommendations on how to make the transition to digital television a successful one.

The "Additional Federal Efforts Could Help Advance Digital Television Transitions" report, commissioned by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the House telecommunications subcommittee, said current DTV policies, including the FCC's recent tuner mandate, may not be enough to complete the transition.

The GAO found that many factors are impeding the progress of the DTV transition, making it unlikely that 85 percent of households will be able to receive DTV signals in many markets by December 2006.

The report also found that many consumers are unaware of the DTV transition. In a random household survey conducted for the GAO, 40 percent of respondents had never heard about the transition and only one in five were “very aware” of it. GAO staffers visited 23 DTV retailers and found that the sales staffs sometimes provided inaccurate information about the sets and available programming. The study found that the broadcaster’s DTV signal is rarely found over cable, and not at all over the satellite services.

The GAO's list of jump-start solutions include digital must-carry, hard deadlines and mandated cable hardware - a laundry list that might require more political willpower than the TV industry has previously mustered.

Additional options include:

  • Requiring digital cable-ready capability in addition to the over-the-air-digital tuner
  • Setting a date-certain when broadcast stations' right to invoke a must-carry status for their stations signals would transfer from their analog signals to their digital signals

The report also recommended educating the public about the DTV transition.

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