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DTV Bill Pushes Educational Outreach

With a hard deadline set for the digital television (DTV) transition on his watch, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) now wants to mount a consumer education campaign for the switch from analog to digital television.

Barton, the former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced legislation late Monday that would require electronics retailers to display informational signs near any analog-only televisions and mandate DTV progress reports from broadcasters and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

As chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Barton spearheaded the House legislation that sets Feb. 17, 2009 as the end of analog broadcasting in the United States. After that, television sets must have digital tuners to receive an over-the-air signal.

To help ease the conversion to digital television broadcasting for American households that currently receive exclusively over-the-air broadcasts, the legislation authorizes $1.5 billion in digital converter-box subsidies.

"Some provisions in that good bill were designed to educate consumers about the DTV transition and the converter-box program," Barton said in a statement. "Regrettably, those provisions were stripped out and left behind because of Senate procedural rules. So the bill we introduce today reasserts the necessary public education provisions that were left out last year."

The Digital Television Consumer Education Act of 2007 calls for retailers to post notices that analog-only television sets will not be able to receive the new digital signals unless they are connected to a digital signal converter box.

The FCC already has rules in place requiring television manufacturers to put digital receivers in all television sets after March 17.

The bill would also require broadcasters to file regular reports with the FCC detailing their DTV consumer education efforts, such as public service announcements. The FCC, in turn, would be required to mount a public service campaign about the DTV transition.

"Digital televisions are selling like umbrellas in a thunderstorm, outpacing all expectations, and the Feb. 17, 2009 transition date is still two years away. But we should use our transition time wisely," Barton said.

He also said the number of people needing a subsidy for converter boxes should be relatively small. The National Telecommunications and Information Agency will administer the program.

"According to the FCC, only 14 percent of television households relied exclusively on over-the-air antennas as of June 2005," Barton said. "That number is likely to dwindle even further as more consumers subscribe to satellite and cable service, including from new entrants such as the phone companies."

The National Association of Broadcasters praised Barton's bill in a statement, noting, "We welcome all pro-consumer initiatives designed to positively educate America on the transition from analog to digital television."