- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

LAS VEGAS — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin says consumer-electronics companies are doing an adequate job of educating consumers about the upcoming transition to digital television in February 2009.

“I think that the industry has announced some aggressive plans for consumer education,” Mr. Martin said yesterday, speaking at the International Consumer Electronics Show here.

“But I think we all could be doing more,” he added. All broadcasters must cease analog broadcasts and transmit only in digital beginning Feb. 17, 2009, the cutoff date for the so-called DTV transition. Only consumers who have digital televisions or equip their analog sets with a special converter box will be able to receive broadcasts after that date.

Advertising campaigns are already under way, but the commission and the industry have faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers for not ensuring public awareness of the event. Mr. Martin, a Republican, countered that it makes more sense to step up education efforts as the deadline draws closer.

“I think that in general you don’t want to try to be putting too much of an emphasis on that too early,” he said.

His talk was in a question-and-answer format with Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Electronics Association. Mr. Shapiro credited commission policies for helping to bring about “a phenomenally robust technology marketplace.”

On the proposed merger between XM Satellite Radio Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., which was announced in February, Mr. Martin said the commission is awaiting a determination from the Department of Justice before it rules on the matter. The FCC’s self-imposed guideline for ruling on the merger expired last month, however.

Mr. Martin said the agency will have its hands full this month and next as it moves ahead with a $10 billion auction of the wireless spectrum that is being freed up by the DTV transition. Digital signals are more compressed than analog signals and therefore take up less spectrum.

“Ultimately, the success is going to be people bidding in the auction and building out the spectrum and putting it to use,” he said, citing the opportunity for manufacturers to develop all sorts of new devices for consumers.

“We want to make sure that’s being put to use as quickly as possible.” Mr. Martin left to catch a plane for Washington before a press release announced a formal investigation into the FCC by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In a letter dated yesterday, Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, warned Mr. Martin of an impending request for documents to determine whether FCC procedures “are being conducted in a fair, open, efficient and transparent manner.”

At recent hearings before both Mr. Dingell’s committee and the Senate, Mr. Martin has defended his leadership of the agency, saying his policies and procedures are the same as past commissions under administrations of both parties.

Channel Surfing runs Wednesdays. Send e-mail to krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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