- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

In the coming months, television viewers will see numerous public service announcements about the nation´s transition to digital television (DTV) — an important change in how we view broadcast television. With less than a year before the changeover occurs on February 17, 2009, too many viewers are still unaware and unprepared. The federal government must ensure no viewers and analog TV-reliant households are left out. The time to develop and execute a comprehensive plan is now.

Millions of viewers are at risk of losing TV reception — including access to important news, weather and emergency information — if the DTV transition is not administered properly. They include senior citizens, the disabled, those who live in border communities or people who have limited English skills, and low-income households who predominantly rely on over-the-air television. According to a recent study by Nielsen, 26.2 percent of Latino households have one or more analog TV that is not prepared for the DTV transition. Also, 17.3 percent of Latino households are unprepared for the DTV transition. These rates are unfortunately the highest among all of the racial and ethnic communities. This underscores the need for a comprehensive outreach to Spanish-speaking viewers.

The success of the DTV transition will largely depend on the federal government´s oversight and involvement in reaching and informing all communities across the U.S., especially the vulnerable segments of the population. Since the beginning of the 110th Congress, over many hearings have been held to push and prod the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) to take the lead in the DTV transition — the way the federal government did before the potential disruption of the Y2K computer problem in the late 1990´s. As the two federal agencies overseeing the DTV transition, it is their responsibility to make sure it runs smoothly. Unfortunately, the calls of FCC Commissioner Adelstein, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Dingell, and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Inouye to form a federal inter-agency task force to address the DTV transition head on have been largely ignored by the Bush Administration.

Time is running out. Many of the NTIA and FCC efforts to educate consumers about the DTV transition thus far have been in reaction to the calls from Congress rather than the result of a proactive effort to develop a comprehensive plan. This reactive approach demonstrates the pressing need for an inter-agency DTV transition task force. Without strong coordination and leadership from the heads of the FCC and NTIA, low-income communities, senior citizens and those who do not speak English as their first language are at great risk of losing their TV reception and valuable emergency information. Private industry has demonstrated a good faith effort to inform viewers. The federal government should not sit on the sidelines and hope that broadcasters, cable operators and consumer electronic retailers and manufacturers will take care of consumer education in underserved communities.

* Rep. Hilda Solis is a California Democrat. Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein is with the Federal Communications Commission.

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