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FCC to hit the road to raise digital TV awareness

August 18, 2008 |  3:17 pm
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin

With exactly six months until TV stations must start broadcasting only digital signals, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin announced today that he and his four fellow commissioners would hit the road to raise awareness.

Commissioners will fan out to the markets with the most households that depend on antennas to watch TV -- something viewers with older TVs won't be able to do starting Feb. 18 unless they upgrade to a new digital set or buy a special converter box. Los Angeles is among 80 markets the FCC has identified because they have 100,000 over-the-air-only households or at least 15 % of the households view TV that way.

"This unprecedented nationwide tour by the entire commission is a part of our commitment to make sure that we're doing all that we can to prepare and educate consumers around the country about the upcoming DTV transition,'' Martin said at a news conference today.

Some lawmakers and public interest groups have criticized the FCC for not doing more to educate the public about the shift to digital television. This spring, Martin announced that the FCC would conduct a test of the switch in Wilmington, N.C., with broadcasters in that city permanently shutting off their analog signals on Sept. 8.

FCC commissioners and staff have traveled to Wilmington to conduct public outreach, and Martin said that that experience led to the decision to dispatch commissioners to other cities. Congress recently authorized an additional $12 million for digital TV outreach, making the road trips possible, Martin said. One commissioner will visit each city, holding a town hall meeting or other public event to answer questions and publicize the digital transition.

Some estimates say as many as 20% of households -- more than 1 million in the Los Angeles area -- depend on antennas to watch TV. Those with older sets that do not have digital tuners won't be able to receive the new signals without a converter box.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is providing up to two $40 coupons for any household to buy no-frills converter boxes that cost between $40 and $60. Based on polls, the agency estimates that about 60% of households that rely on antennas will buy converters boxes, with the others planning to either get a new set or sign up for cable or satellite TV. The agency said today that about 75% of those over-the-air-only households have requested coupons since the program began Jan. 1. That figure is about 59% in the Los Angeles area.

The date for the the FCC trip to L.A. has not been set yet. The events will begin Aug. 27 in Anchorage, Alaska.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin, left, and Jim Yager, board chairman of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, during a news conference Monday in Washington. Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press

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