GAO updates House subcommittee on DTV progress

The nation’s full-power broadcasters have made “significant progress” on their DTV transition preparations, with 91 percent already transmitting a digital signal, and viewer awareness of the transition is climbing, a director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) told a House subcommittee last week.

Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Mark Goldstein, director Physical Infrastructure Issues at the GAO, also laid out several thorny transition issues, including the LPTV question and the decision to do nothing to prepare that many over-the-air viewers say they have made.

Drawing on the findings of the GAO’s recent “Digital Television Transition: Majority of Broadcasters Are Prepared for the DTV Transition, but Some Technical and Coordination Issues Remain” report, Goldstein reported to the subcommittee that the full-power broadcast component of the transition appears to be a success. Of the nine percent of stations polled by the GAO that still were not transmitting a digital signal as of February 2008, “almost all” expect to be on-air with a digital signal by the deadline, he said.

Viewers, too, appear to be making progress, at least in terms of DTV transition awareness. Eighty-four percent of the population has heard about the transition, Goldstein reported. However, the public’s knowledge about the specifics is far less encouraging. According to Goldstein, fewer know when the transition will happen and why it’s happening.

Those with the most at stake — namely over-the-air viewers — know the most, he said. However, 45 percent of households that only rely on off-air reception “plan no action or inadequate action to prepare for the transition,” he said.

Another thorny issue is the LPTV question. The vast majority of the nation’s 2100 LPTV stations will continue to transmit an analog signal after the February 2009 transition. To continue receiving those signals, viewers will need DTV converter boxes that pass through analog signals or a signal splitter, Goldstein told the subcommittee.

However, there’s little public awareness that there’s a difference between full- and low-power stations. While efforts are underway to let the public know, some are concerned the message is too confusing, he said. For instance, one advocacy group for a disadvantaged population wondered how LPTV viewers would understand they are watching a low-power station, that they are not transmitting digitally and the actions they must take to continue to watch the channel.

According to Goldstein, the group said “many in that community are not aware of the issue with low-power stations or that they are reliant on low-power stations.”

To read the testimony, visit: