Government leaders continue to argue over DTV transition

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, introduced a legislation that would shake up the government’s transition plans. He thinks current plans will hurt the elderly.

John Kneuer, head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) and one of the key government operatives assigned to carry out the transition, thinks the DTV plan is just fine as it is.

Congressional Democrats, fearing a major public backlash when analog television is turned off in early 2009, don’t believe a word of the promises being made by the Republicans in the administration or at the FCC.

Kohl wants to create task forces and advisory boards to oversee the transition. He also wants mandatory educational public service announcements from broadcasters and cable providers as well as new priorities for who’s first in line to get a set-top converter under the government subsidy program.

Kneuer insisted last week there are enough coupons for set-top converters for everyone and Kohl’s legislation is not needed.

In the meantime, Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Fred Upton (R-MI), ranking Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, asked FCC chairman Kevin Martin whether they should start moving a bill that would give the FCC authority to mandate DTV education initiatives.

Barton and Upton had questions for Martin about FCC plans and what new powers Congress might provide to bolster the public education effort. Martin is pushing a voluntary education, a course that is scaring many members of Congress of both parties.

Broadcasters, in the meantime, told the FCC they have big plans for a public education campaign and that government intrusion is not welcome.

NAB and MSTV filed a joint document insisting that “NAB’s education campaign makes adoption of mandatory PSAs redundant and unnecessary.”

The broadcast lobbyists also said stations need the flexibility to tailor the education to individual markets and want to avoid a “cookie cutter” approach that would mandate standardized spots.

“Broadcasters must have the option to adapt their outreach efforts depending on market realities specific to their communities,” the groups told the FCC.