House Republicans Revisit DTV Education

The former leader of the House Commerce Committee has resurrected legislation to alert folks that TV will no longer work as they know it come February 2009. Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Texas), former chairman of the committee, rolled out the Digital Television Consumer Education Act of 2007 this week. Reps. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) signed off on the bill as well.

The proposed legislation outlines a multiplayer approach encompassing retailers, cable and satellite TV providers, broadcasters and the FCC. It also includes a provision for setting an energy consumption standard for digital-to-analog converter boxes. The boxes are intended to keep over-the-air analog TVs working after analog broadcast transmissions cease Feb. 17, 2009. Lawmakers created a program to subsidize the converters in the same bill that established the 2009 analog sunset date. Barton included public education language in an early version of that bill, but it was stripped out before passage in late 2005.

"Regrettably, those provisions were stripped out and left behind because of Senate procedural rules," Barton said in a statement. "Senate rules are fine things, but they're not likely to be standing around, explaining how digital television works. So the bill we introduce today reasserts the necessary public education provisions that were left out last year."

The latest proposed law would require retailers selling or renting analog TV sets to put signs up saying those TVs won't receive over-the-air signals after the analog deadline, Feb. 17, 2009. The prescribed language is as follows:

"This TV has only an analog broadcast tuner and will require a converter box after February 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the nation's transition to digital broadcasting. The TV should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services, gaming consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and similar products."

The legislation also provides that cable and satellite operators include DTV transition information in billings; that broadcasters report their own education efforts with the FCC; and that the FCC create a public outreach program and a consumer education working group.

An additional provision directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to establish a nationwide energy consumption standard for converters. The NTIA is currently in charge of the converter subsidy program, and is already reviewing energy standards, as is the Environmental Protection Agency. Consumer electronics makers, who will more than likely be making the converters, favor one national standard over a raft of divergent ones from state governments.

Another item directs the FCC to report the progress of the outlined public education efforts, as well as the status of international coordination with Canada and Mexico on the DTV table of allotments.

"Digital televisions are selling like umbrellas in a thunderstorm, outpacing all expectations, and the Feb. 17, 2009, transition date is still two years away," Barton said. "But we should use our transition time wisely. This legislation that Mr. Upton, Mr. Hastert and I have introduced will ensure that the relatively small number of consumers who are still using those analog televisions with over-the-air antennas in two years understand what they need to do."

NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton thanked the congressmen for offering "legislation aimed at educating America's television viewers about the ongoing digital transition. As we draw nearer to February 2009, we welcome all pro consumer initiatives designed to positively educate America on the transition from analog to digital television."

The NAB this month launched its own transition education program with the formation of a four-member DTV transition team.