DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor


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Congress Revisits Digital TV Consumer Education

July 1, 2006 - updated

While exploring the latest revision of S. 2686 (mother-of-all-bills) I discovered that consumer education provisions have now been resurrected and included in Title VII - Digital Television (formerly Title VIII). Seems like they recycled provisions that were stripped out of last year's transition bill, and haven't yet smoothed everything out yet.

Anything they can do will be a positive step, though.

A removable warning label is mandated for the screens of TVs that cannot receive digital signals. The specified language for the label is:

CONSUMER ALERT

This TV only has 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 on that date as required by Federal law. It should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services, gaming consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and similar products.

Industry lobbyists made sure that the "as required by Federal law" phrase was in there (so people know who to blame), as well as all that stuff about your old analog TVs still being able to play your old VHS tapes.

The draft bill does not set a date for manufacturers to affix this label, however. Last time the time period allowed was quite generous. If they stick to the same time allowance, the requirement will not likely go into effect before March 1, 2007, when all TVs will be required to have integral digital tuners.

Retail stores would have to put up warning signs next to analog-only TVs not later than four months after the bill is enacted into law. At the rate the legislation is proceeding, that could be early 2007?

While reading through FCC dockets yesterday, I came upon what may be an explanation for the labeling requirement showing up in this bill, without explicit dates. In a meeting with FCC officials, Panasonic reps said they were supporting the industry's voluntary labeling program for analog-only TVs by labeling cartons no later than June 30, 2006, and adding labels to analog-only TV sets no later than July 30.

The label they will use is virtually identical to the one in the legislation and the one presumably developed by the Consumer Electronics Association.

So this seems to be a case of the Senate encouraging the voluntary program to move forward.

In another paragraph, the draft legislation instructs the FCC to develop consumer information on the transition, and within one month of the bill's enactment to set up a "public outreach program" to educate consumers about the digital television transition. Didn't they already tell the NTIA to do that?

The bill also requires public service announcements to be made by TV broadcasters each day "from July 17, 2009, through February 17, 2009." I'm sure there is a typo in there, but I don't know if they meant July 17, 2007 or 2008 (hopefully the former).

The TV public service announcements would be two 30-second spots each day "notifying the public of the digital transition and containing the address of the [FCC's DTV] website."

And then the bill would have the FCC set up a committee (a month after they start their public outreach program) to study the problem of educating consumers on the DTV transition! Haven't they had ten years to think about it? (sorry, I hate it when I do that)

Anyway, this is what the new little bureaucracy would look like:

(b) DTV Working Group on Consumer Education, Outreach, and Technical Assistance

(1) IN GENERAL- Within 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Federal Communications Commission shall establish an advisory committee, to be known as the DTV Working Group, to consult with State and local governments, providers of low income assistance programs, educational institutions, and community groups to promote consumer outreach and to provide logistical assistance to consumers, including converter box delivery and installation.

(2) MEMBERSHIP- The Commission shall appoint to the DTV Working Group representatives of groups involved with the transition to digital television, including the Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, other Federal agencies, television broadcasters, multichannel video programming distributors, consumer electronics manufacturers and manufacturers of peripheral devices, broadcast antenna and tuner manufacturers, retail providers of consumer electronics equipment, consumers, and public interest groups (including the American Association of Retired Persons). Members of the DTV Working Group shall serve without compensation and shall not be considered Federal employees by reason of their service on the advisory committee.

(3) PURPOSES- The purposes of the DTV Working Group are--

(A) to advise the Commission in creating and implementing a national plan to inform consumers about the digital television transition . . .

It is interesting to note that the Senate wants the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration - part of the Commerce Department) to be on this working group that will advise the FCC in creating the national plan to educate consumers.

I say interesting because the DTV Transition Act passed about six months ago gave the NTIA $5 million "for consumer education concerning the digital television transition and the availability of the digital-to-analog converter box program;"

I guess they rolled over on that one, so let's start over from scratch (with a committee)--wouldn't want to rush into this, would we? How many years will it take to figure out how to tell the public that we're getting a new TV standard?

Couldn't they just send every TV household a letter? Oops, I guess the problem is much too important for something as simple as that. Yep-need a committee.

Stay tuned. Gotta get out from under that filibuster first.