Ahead of last Thursday’s digital-television oversight hearing in the House Commerce Subcommmitee on Communications, Technology & the Internet, subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) signaled he was happy with the current state of the transition and with preparations for the new June 12 hard date for the cutoff of analog signals. During the hearing he did express some concerns over availability of converter boxes and antenna issues, but it did not dampen his praise for the overall effort.
Boucher backed moving the date and led floor debate in the House on the bill that changed it.
In an interview, Boucher said the transition is on “a very good path. I do not anticipate any further problems.”
He praised acting FCC chairman Michael Copps’s handing of the transition, saying it had been “superb,” a term he also applied to the television industry’s handling of the DTV-education effort.
Boucher also said that, as far as he could tell, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program was now working well, thanks to an infusion of economic-stimulus money that got the program moving again.
“We are continuing to gauge with NTIA the success of their program, but from all appearances, it now seems to be working very well,” he said.
The NTIA, part of the Commerce Department, said this week it had cleared up the 4 million-plus waiting list of coupon requests and had begun accepting reapplications for expired coupons, something also authorized in DTV date-change bill.
“I think that broadcasters and cable have both done a superb job in educating the public about the DTV transition,” Boucher said. “And, to the extent that there were people who were unprepared, and there certainly were — 6.5 million homes, and these are Nielsen’s numbers — that was not because of lack of effort on the part of broadcasters or cable. I want to extend to them congratulations for a job well done.”
He said those industries had also done a good job in beefing up call centers, suggesting that moving the DTV transition date had been necessary to shore up that effort.
In addition to the coupon program running out of money — a key spur to the administration’s initial call for moving the date — Boucher said the other “major problem” was that “the FCC’s call centers were in complete disarray because they were short staffed and did not have adequate resources. That problem has also been repaired as a consequence of the stimulus,” as well as an assist from Copps, he said.
The stimulus package set aside $650 million to fund more coupons and for more NTIA and FCC outreach, which includes funding for call centers.
Boucher also said Copps’s effort to coordinate the industry and government call centers was “extraordinarily helpful.”
The congressman also reiterated that the date would not move again. “There will not be a further delay,” he said. “The transition will occur everywhere in the country on June 12.”