FCC Launches DTV-Awareness Campaign


The federal government’s effort to switch the country to all-digital TV entered a new phase this past week with an emphasis on consumer education that included a brief appearance by Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell on ABC’s Monday Night Football.

Powell -- who has made the digital-TV transition one of his key policy objectives -- has decided that the time is ripe to plug digital television and to use the government’s resources to bring some clarity to consumers who are finding the search for digital-TV sets to be an intimidating proposition.

“It is a dizzying array of choices for consumers, and the FCC wants to be a partner with those consumers in helping them to make more informed television-buying decisions,” Powell said Monday at FCC headquarters.

Powell plans to do more than spend 90 seconds talking to a National Football League game’s halftime audience.

This past week, the FCC unveiled a new, interactive Web site (www.dtv.gov) loaded with information about purchasing digital-TV sets and determining the availability of HDTV programming provided by local TV stations, satellite carriers and cable operators.

In April 2002, Powell nudged the industry to do more on the digital-TV front. Cable operators and programmers responded, as did satellite carriers and broadcasters, in feeding the pipeline with digital and HD programming.

The consumer-electronics industry moved by stocking retail outlets with a vast array of HDTV monitors that are slowly coming equipped with over-the-air receivers and plug-and-play jacks for easy viewing by digital-cable subscribers.

Now, according to Powell, is the time to stoke consumer interest, wrap up the transition and reclaim analog-broadcast spectrum for redeployment to police and fire units and for auction to wireless-broadband providers that are likely to bid billions of dollars for the airwaves.

“We think this is really a perfect time for a strong awareness push going into the holiday season that we think will put a dramatic stimulus in the transition rate,” Powell said.

Consumer interest in digital TV is rising, but the day when all 108 million U.S. households have at least one digital-TV set is still many years away. So far, about 12 million digital-TV sets have been sold, but the vast majority have been monitors incapable of receiving over-the-air TV stations.

Consumers have purchased about 2 million digital-TV sets with over-the-air tuners. But that number is expected to rise because the FCC has ordered set makers to include off-air tuners in nearly all new sets by July 2007.

In addition to helpful information to ease digital-TV purchases, consumers also need to see unit prices falling well below $1,000. Powell -- who treks to major retail outlets about twice monthly to inspect price points himself -- reported that prices are no longer scraping the stratosphere.

“You are seeing high-definition television sets for under $1,000 for the first time, and some significantly below $1,000. We’re encouraged that prices are falling,” Powell said. “I think the price will come down with scale.”