Markey Chairs 6th Hearing on DTV Transition

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, held a hearing this morning on the status of the digital television (DTV) transition which will take place in February 2009. The following is the chairman’s opening statement:

"Good Morning.  Today we hold yet another oversight hearing on the status of the digital television transition.  The goal of today's hearing is to extract lessons from the recent test in Wilmington, North Carolina, to assess ongoing governmental efforts toward a successful transition, to examine consumer education initiatives and ways to improve them, as well as to raise other policy issues affecting the future of digital television.


"This Subcommittee has held several hearings this Congress on the transition to focus attention on the preparations and policies necessary to ensure success.  In addition, I tasked the Government Accountability Office over two years ago with the job of examining this transition and it has done its typical top-notch job for us in delving into governance, technical, and consumer education aspects of the transition.  This morning we receive a fresh report from the GAO on the status of transition efforts.


"With 154 days left until the shut-off, we need to gauge current consumer and industry preparedness for this transition.  We are also eager to provide and receive suggestions for additional outreach or policy improvements to minimize consumer disruption, particularly for the elderly, individuals with disabilities, minority households, and Latino households along the border with Mexico.


"Since our last hearing on this important subject we have had the pilot test in Wilmington.  This isolated test was a valuable experience.  It demonstrated that with focused efforts, general awareness of the transition in a relatively small market can be raised to fairly high levels.  However, just below the general awareness, detailed consumer knowledge about how to properly hook up converter boxes, put up antennas, or take other similar steps necessary to receive the new digital channels was apparently deficient.  In addition, other North Carolina households suffered from loss in the coverage areas of particular broadcast stations where the digital signal failed to reach historically served households.  These "in home" implementation issues -- and for many consumers, unexpected signal loss -- caused understandable confusion and frustration. 


"Chairman Martin in my view correctly stated after the test that the measure of success isn't Wilmington per se, but rather how we learn from Wilmington to ensure success next February.  I want to commend the Commission, NTIA, and non-governmental stakeholders for their efforts in Wilmington.  To address the specific problems identified in the Wilmington test, however, will undoubtedly prove challenging on a national scale. 


"To extrapolate what might happen nationally from this test may be difficult but it is clear that a fairly significant number of consumers in Wilmington called stations or the FCC with implementation problems at home.  Moreover, if coverage areas of broadcasters purposefully shrink, or are otherwise diminished, in more densely populated markets than Wilmington, consumer ire from both of these issues could come from hundreds of thousands or millions of consumers nationally next February. 


"We must also be cognizant of the fact that Wilmington received extraordinary attention and resources for this test.  Such a focused effort will be difficult to replicate on a national scale. 


"The good news is that we have 154 days left prior to the national analog shut-off.  The bad news is that we have only 154 days left prior to the shut-off.  That leaves us precious little time for the FCC, NTIA, and the industry to make final preparations and contingency plans for several key aspects of the transition.   I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and thank them for joining us this morning."

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More information on Rep. Markey's oversight of the DTV transition is available HERE.


September 16, 2008

CONTACT: Jessica Schafer, 202.225.2836