Lawmakers Keep Prodding on DTV Education

Around Capitol Hill, in various ways, lawmakers are seeking ways to push the DTV transition along and leave no viewers behind.

Not satisfied that the FCC and private sector have the DTV transition under control, Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) this week introduced legislation he said would coordinate a national education campaign to help older Americans keep their sets on after Feb. 17, 2009.

The Preparing America’s Seniors for the Digital Television Transition Act would require broadcasters, electronics manufacturers, and retailers to help get out the government’s message through mandatory public service announcements, the placement of labels on coupon-eligible converter boxes, and the maintenance of toll-free phone lines to help individuals with converter box installation—measures some involved have already slammed as unconstitutional.

The bill would also establish a grant program for states and others to help seniors navigate the government’s converter box coupon program, and would formalize a partnership among the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the Administration on Aging and mandate specific reporting requirements.
The bill reflects the issues raised by AARP and others at a Sept. 19 hearing of the Aging Committee, when a Government Accountability Office official testified that the transition and related education initiatives had no single individual or office in charge.

Kohl’s legislation would also modify the coupon program to ensure that households relying solely on over-the-air television sets are prioritized and specify that residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are eligible to participate.

On the House side, Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), the top Republican on the House Commerce Committee, and Fred Upton (Mich.), the top Republican on the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, fired off a letter Oct. 1 to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, demanding some answers on where the commission is heading on DTV education.

The congressmen asked Martin: If voluntary education efforts are insufficient, should Congress move legislation to grant the FCC more authority to mandate education efforts?

Barton and Upton noted they’ve already introduced legislation that would impose some of the same requirements suggested in a May 2007 earlier letter to Martin by Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairmen of the committee and subcommittee.

The subcommittee has scheduled hearings on the transition for Oct. 17 and Oct. 31.