Over the next six months, the five members of the Federal Communications Commission individually will jet to 81 markets to host public meetings about the nationwide transition to all-digital TV broadcasts set for Feb. 17, 2009.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin, announcing the tour Monday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., said the markets are those the agency believes are “most at risk” because they represent a large number of people who may not be prepared for the shutoff of analog TV signals.
The 81 cities each have more than 100,000 households or at least 15% of households that rely solely on over-the-air signals for TV. The list includes the country’s biggest metro areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
Martin said the tour has been made possible because Congress recently approved $12 million for consumer education related to the digital TV transition. The FCC had requested $20 million for DTV education as part of its 2009 budget.
In each market, one FCC commissioner will play host to town hall meetings, workshops and roundtable meetings. In addition, each commissioner will be available for interviews with local press.
Martin said the local events will be patterned after the outreach initiative the FCC has conducted in Wilmington, N.C., which has included appearances at fairs, libraries and farmers’ markets. Wilmington is serving as a test case for the digital TV transition, with local stations there slated to shut off analog broadcasts Sept. 8.
“One of the things we’ve learned from our efforts in Wilmington is that it’s particularly helpful to have people on the ground,” Martin said.
Martin himself will be traveling to many of the locales, although the FCC has not disclosed yet which markets each commissioner will be visiting.
He said the commissioners decided which cities to visit through “the equivalent of the NFL draft”—each member picked a city, one at a time, until all markets were accounted for.
In addition to the 81-market tour, the FCC has established a speakers bureau for any group to request a speaker to come and discuss the digital TV transition.
The FCC also will coordinate with the National Association of Broadcasters to see if additional local stations can participate in a “soft turnoff” of analog signals to determine consumer readiness for the digital TV transition, Martin said.
Jim Yager, NAB television board chairman and CEO of Barrington Broadcasting Co. in Hoffman Estates, Ill., said 30 stations have already conducted soft shutoff tests. “It is an awesome display of creativity by our member stations,” Yager said.
Martin said the digital TV tour wasn’t spurred by a specific concern of limited public awareness of the issue. Rather, “it’s a general concern that we’re doing all we can” to publicize the transition, he said.
The initial 23 markets and dates for the FCC’s digital TV tour, running through the end of 2008, are:
Anchorage, Alaska 8/27
Fairbanks, Alaska 8/28
Baltimore, Maryland 9/8
San Francisco, California 9/11
Austin, Texas 9/18
Houston, Texas 9/17
Memphis, Tennessee 9/19
New York, New York 9/27
Boise, Idaho 9/29
Atlanta, Georgia 9/29
Missoula, Montana 9/30
Helena, Montana 10/1
Bozeman, Montana 10/2
Billings, Montana 10/3
Nashville, Tennessee 10/7
Charlotte, North Carolina 10/16
Denver, Colorado 10/16
Seattle, Washington 10/20
Spokane, Washington 10/21
Yakima, Washington 10/22
Portland, Oregon 10/23
Chicago, Illinois 11/20
Phoenix, Arizona 12/29