The leaders of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Association are set to unveil a public-relations offensive next week designed to educate consumers about the demise of over-the-air analog TV in early 2009.
The three trade groups, while often in conflict, decided to unite in response to calls from key congressional leaders that their industries had the scale and resources to inform 300 million U.S. citizens that millions of TV sets could go dark Feb. 17, 2009, as a result of a federal law signed by President Bush last February.
“We are coming together to make sure the transition is a success as we head into the two-year-out mark,” CEA vice president of communications Jason Oxman said.
The announcement is set to occur at a Washington, D.C., press conference at a location that has not been selected.
“We are getting together to announce that we are putting aside whatever differences we may have and working toward this DTV-education effort. Each of the three of us is going to devote significant resources to it,” Oxman added.
Consumer education is considered vital to a successful transition that resembles the almost flawless Y2K computer switchover, rather than a flop that creates a TV Katrina.
Although the Bush administration has $1.5 billion to subsidize digital-to-analog converter boxes, it has just $5 million to get the message out that consumers can apply for two $40 coupons to defray the cost of converter boxes purchased at retail.
The trade-group leaders plan to discuss the plan it general terms. Except for the creation of a Web site, the groups don’t have many details worked out. The value of the effort, whether in cash or in-kind value, hasn’t been established, either.
The termination of analog broadcasting could leave about 73 million analog TVs vulnerable to going dark unless they are connected to converter boxes, analog-cable programming services, or satellite-TV boxes that translate digital signals to analog.
In Feb. 7 correspondence to House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders, Federal Communications Commission member Jonathan Adelstein, a Democrat, predicted a consumer backlash if the transition is managed poorly.
“Failure to administer a comprehensive national DTV-transition plan will almost certainly result in a tsunami of consumer complaints to congressional and other government offices from viewers across the country. To better manage this potential national disruption, I would recommend establishing a clear chain of command,” Adelstein said.
Federal oversight of the digital-TV transition is shared by the FCC and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Neither currently has authority to order analog-TV stations to stay on the air after Feb. 17, 2009, to prevent serious consumer dislocation at a time when the country's northern tier can get heavy snowfall.
Congress set a firm date because it wanted to collect $10 billion from the sale of analog-TV spectrum that became surplus in an all-digital environment and to allocate channels to fire, police, and emergency crews that need to communicate on the same frequencies.