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FCC Converter Box Workshop -- Final Column

June 22, 2008

The FCC's converter box workshop took place as advertised on Thursday. As expected, underwhelming, with no revelations.

Alan Stillwell presided on behalf of the FCC. He's in their Office of Engineering and Technology. Very knowledgeable about his thing, but I get the impression that a lot of these people (also including the person from the NTIA) tend not to spend time outside of their jobs educating themselves about other things going on in the transition.

The NTIA woman was asked when their proposed coupon program eligibility expansion rule would come out. She sidestepped the question, saying they were working as fast as they could. (That's Washington-speak for they don't know what to do.) This was after she said the program was "open to all Americans." Well, except for people living in group homes and using post office boxes.

When asked about the proposed rule's requirement for nursing home residents to supply their social security number to get their one coupon (and if they didn't, other information would be solicited), she said it was just a proposed rule, that they would be considering all of the comments, and she wasn't going to say anything more about that.

(If you have a continuing interest in how the coupon program is doing, check out the NTIA's certified converter box page, which now lists those boxes in two sections -- those available in stores and those that are not. Their statistics page has some interesting numbers and now also charts.)

Stillwell was asked about educating the public about digital reception problems. He said if you can get analog, you should be able to get digital. He said he was just down in Wilmington, and the people he talked to had no problem with digital reception. All of this notwithstanding FCC Chairman Martin's statements that FCC engineers calculated that 5% of over-the-air viewers would need to upgrade their antennas to get reliable digital signals.

What they did say about converter boxes was pretty elementary. Stillwell repeatedly stressed that people should read the owner's manual and follow the directions.

This was just another small example of our government's plodding indifference to what should have been a dynamic, proactive management of the DTV transition, based on public policy goals.

Instead, Congress, the FCC and the NTIA have given the TV industry sway over policy decisions based on the corporate bottom line. Many decisions by individuals in government (our public servants) were based on gaining personal favor with their industry constituents, with a lucrative position in the private sector as their prize.

There has been plenty of corruption, apathy, greed, indifference, and plain incompetence.

I can't count the number if instances where government officials and industry witnesses have dissembled, misled, and outright lied to Congressional committees.

The few shining lights stood no chance of prevailing amidst all the darkness.

The consumer's best interests have consistently been lost in the background.

All of this has been extremely frustrating and discouraging for me. At this point the actions have been taken; all that remains is for the rest of the transition to play out, however that will go.

No next week . . . is shutting down.