FCC Calls for Comments on DTV Transition

With less than two years to go before the VHF and UHF television spectra in America are handed over to the winners of an upcoming frequency auction, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday issued a call for public comments regarding better informing the public about the meaning of the February 17, 2009 transition date.

"The digital transition will make valuable spectrum available for both public safety uses and expanded wireless competition and innovation," yesterday's public announcement states. "It will also provide consumers with better quality television picture and sound, and make new services available through multicasting. These innovations, however, are dependent upon widespread consumer understanding of the benefits and mechanics of the transition."

As many as one-fourth of US households, according to surveys conducted over the past two years, receive their television signal over the airwaves. For their television sets to continue to receive a picture, those households will need to purchase signal conversion boxes.

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Congress has already approved plans to subsidize homeowners' purchases of up to two converter boxes each, at an estimated cost of between $40 and $50 per box.

But last week, Congressmen sounded warnings that not enough people may be aware that the conversion is under way. This from a legislative body which hasn't quite yet decided when the sale of coupon-subsidized converter boxes should actually begin.

Since terrestrial television stations are already adept at informing viewers what will be on TV next week, the FCC's concern about its ability to adequately inform the public that their channels will no longer exist after a certain date, may actually be an indication of other concerns. One of which may be fears that the debate over the transition date could be reopened, at a time when the FCC is working to set critical guidelines for the auctioning of TV spectrum, to likely potential bidders such as Sprint, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Google.

So the FCC may be seeking to take ownership of this issue, not by contesting the timing of the transition, which it needs to be set in stone, but by instead asking for individuals and concerned businesses "to help convey the timing, logistics and benefits of the DTV transition to consumers." This, even though television is by design a communications medium.

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