FCC Reform, DTV Top House Panel’s 2008


Washington – Possibly reforming the Federal Communications Commission and redesigning the digital TV transition sit atop the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s media and telecommunications agenda for the next 11 months, according to a draft agenda prepared by the panel’s staff.

The panel, headed by chairman Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), has already announced that it is investigating the FCC but no hearings have been announced. The staff agenda, obtained by Multichannel News, noted that legislation related to “FCC procedures” could result from the investigation.

Dingell’s panel is also planning to keep a close eye on the digital transition, which involves the shutoff of analog TV signals on Feb. 17, 2009.

Lack of consumer awareness and preparation could result in the loss of free, over-the-air television to potentially millions of homes.

The staff agenda did not rule out legislation that would address shortcomings in the transition. Joining other Democrats, Dingell has complained about the small amount of federal funds set aside for public education on the DTV transition.

The Bush administration’s new budget released Monday yielded to Dingell concerns, but apparently not as much as Dingell had hoped.

“The President has proposed an additional $20 million dollars for educating consumers about digital television. When added to the original $5 million that was allotted by the Republican Congress that enacted this program, this is far too little to educate a nation of 300 million people,” Dingell said in a statement.

The Commerce Department is running a $1.5 billion program to subsidize 33.5 million digital-to-analog converter boxes. Each household is permitted to apply for up to two $40 coupons to defray retail box costs.

Other topics on the staff agenda include: universal service reform, network neutrality; access to communications services by the disabled; video competition; cybersecurity; wireless competition; and the second life/online virtual worlds.