Telecom and the Internet Hearing on the Status of the DTV Transition: 252 Days and Counting

WASHINGTON – Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet chaired the fifth in a series of oversight hearings on the Digital Television (DTV) Transition which will take place in February of 2009.

Below is the chairman's opening statement:

"Good Morning.  Today we hold the Subcommittee's fifth oversight hearing on the DTV transition.  We are now 252 days away from February 17, 2009, when all full power TV stations in the country are required to transition to digital broadcasting. 

"While February 17th now looms as a momentous date in the history of television, it is a date that we are endeavoring to have as unmemorable as possible from a consumer standpoint. And that brings us to the two excellent panels of witnesses who can assist the subcommittee this morning.  They will help us to gauge current consumer and industry preparedness for this transition, as well as provide suggestions for programmatic improvements or other ways to minimize consumer disruption.

"Since our last hearing on this important subject, the first wave of converter box coupons mailed to requesting households have now expired after 90 days. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) reports that some 16 million coupons have been requested overall, and that of the approximately 840,000 coupons that have thus far reached their 90-day expiration date, roughly 42 percent of those coupons were redeemed. As more coupons reach the 90-day expiration date we will have more and better data on the rate at which the coupons are being redeemed. This will shed additional light on the potential financial and administrative needs for the program.

"Second, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced recently that on September 8th, a ‘pilot test' switch-over will occur in Wilmington, North Carolina. The FCC, NTIA, the DTV Transition Coalition, and local authorities are now gearing up for this early shut-off.  I believe that even if this experiment goes relatively smoothly, both the FCC and NTIA stand to learn something from it that can be applied nationally.  I applaud the agencies for conducting this test, and particularly commend the community of Wilmington, for its willingness to move forward early.

"Finally, this morning we have new, updated information being provided to us by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  The GAO recently completed a report on the technical aspects of the transition that highlighted issues confronting broadcasters and tower crews as they prepare to switch over from analog to full power digital broadcasting.  Today, the GAO supplements that information with its first survey results regarding consumer awareness of the transition.  The good news is that the overall percentage of consumers who know something is about to happen is quite high - 84 percent. 

"Unfortunately additional data within the first survey results do raise concerns. The GAO results underscore, for instance, that many consumers do not yet fully understand the ramifications of the transition.

"For example, some 69 percent of respondents told GAO that they believe the transition would not be disruptive, or not too disruptive, to their ability to watch television.  Yet 54 percent of these respondents had inadequate or no plans for the transition despite being at high or medium risk of losing TV service.

"With respect to the converter box program, only 55 percent of consumers reported being aware of it.  In addition, of those consumers who said they intend to purchase a box, only one-third were aware of how to actually obtain a coupon.

"The GAO data also indicate some significant consumer confusion.  For instance, of those consumers considered at risk of losing television service, some 45 percent plan inadequate or no action to prepare for the transition.  Conversely, of those consumers in a ‘low risk' category - in other words, consumers who should not need converter boxes because all their TVs are connected to cable or satellite service - some 15 percent indicated they would purchase a converter box even though they don't need one.  And 86 percent of these households indicated they would utilize the NTIA program to do so.  

"By age groups, the GAO found that people aged 45 to 64 have the highest awareness of the transition, and respondents 65 and older showed slightly lower levels of awareness.  The GAO also found that ethnic minorities were less likely to have awareness of the transition and the rationale behind it.

"All of this early survey data should be closely analyzed and monitored and should inform the various consumer education campaigns, especially among ethnic minorities and other hard to reach demographics. As the GAO conducts additional surveys and analysis, we will need to examine how best to calibrate the consumer education campaigns to yield not only ever greater consumer awareness, but also more accurate knowledge across the country about what consumers may need to do, or not do, and how best to prepare the nation for the future of television.

"I look forward to hearing from our witnesses this morning and thank them for their willingness to participate." 

June 10, 2008

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