Martin: DTV Top Priority for 2008

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin may be facing investigation from Congress over the way he runs the commission, but he wasn't afraid to answer questions from some 40 reporters at a wide-ranging press conference Tuesday.

He outlined the commission's 2007 accomplishments, including last summer's Table of Allotments (the final DTV channel assignments) and the New Year's Eve order that established final rules for the digital build-out. He also highlighted the Sept. 11 order that ensured carriage of signals on cable. He said commission staff had made presentations to 285 senior centers in the second half of the year and dropped off informational materials at some 3,000 sites.

He also revealed that the recently completed Congressional appropriations process (for Fiscal Year 2008, which began Oct. 1, 2007) gave the FCC $2.5 million for education on the issue—that's barely enough for a Super Bowl ad, but would allow the commission "to become directly involved in consumer education," he said. It's $2.5 million more than Congress had previously assigned the commission for DTV education.

Martin insisted he wasn't worried about the transition, saying that more and more consumers would become aware of it as the Feb. 18, 2009, full-power analog shut-off drew near.

Another aspect of the transition is also passing a landmark; the auction of spectrum already vacated by analog broadcasters will start this month, he noted.

Martin also showed off his hands-on knowledge of the variety of issues before the commission, including wireless policy, network neutrality, the use of TV white spaces, public safety, and his pet issues of indecency cable regulation.

Reporters tried to trip him up regarding the investigation of the FCC launched by the House Commerce Committee, pressing him to either concede poor management or proclaim the investigation unfounded. Martin didn't bite with a direct answer, maintaining only that he operated the commission the same way as his predecessors. Asked how many previous chairmen held meetings that didn't start and end until late at night—a recent habit of his that has infuriated lobbyists, the media and other commissioners—he responded that the timing of the meetings was less important than the commission getting all its work done.

Thursday, the various bureaus of the commission presented their accomplishments for the year. The Media Bureau announced it had, among other things, received 166,000 comments on media ownership; approved five major media transactions (with three pending); issued 537 notices of liability totaling $2.4 million; and issued responses to 650 Congressional inquiries.

The reports of all nine FCC bureaus are available on the commission's Web site.