NTIA's Baker Opposed To Capps DTV Bill


Washington—A senior Bush administration official Tuesday opposed a House bill that would delay recovery of old analog TV spectrum for two weeks to ensure that no one lost access to emergency communications around the time of the digital TV transition next February.

"We feel that certainty is best at this point. Delay confuses consumers," Assistant Commerce Secretary Meredith Attwell Baker said on a conference call with reporters.

All full-power TV station have to turn off their analog TV signals on Feb. 17, 2009 and rely exclusively on their digital signals. Analog TV sets not connected to a pay-TV service need to be hooked up to digital-to-analog converter boxes to keep working.

Last week, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) introduced a bill (HR 7013) that would postpone the government's takeback of analog TV spectrum from Feb. 18, 2009, to March 3, 2009. During that two-week period, over-the-air viewers who failed to make the digital transition would continue to have access to emergency weather and safety alerts on analog TV sets.

Capps, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a panel that oversees the Federal Communications Commission, wants the FCC to require analog stations that briefly remain on the air to broadcast DTV consumer education material in both English and Spanish, an idea borrowed from the Sept. 8 DTV trial in Wilmington, N.C.

The FCC and Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration are leading the federal government's consumer education campaign. NTIA, run by Baker, is supervising a $1.5 billion converter box subsidy program.

"We want to use all of our energy to make people aware and act now," Baker said regarding consumer acquisition of $40 converter box coupons available to all households under the program.

The Capps bill was the first to call for briefly delaying the federal government's legally mandated recovery of all analog TV spectrum on Feb. 17, 2009. Much of the spectrum has already been auctioned for billions of dollars to AT&T and Verizon.

NTIA also opposed a request from Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) to reissue  coupons to consumers that failed to act within the 90-day expiration window. NTIA has said the federal DTV transition law won't permit that.

As of Sept 24, NTIA has mailed 26.7 million coupons and 10.8 million have been redeemed, according to NTIA's Web site.