Coalition letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin regarding the digital television transition

October 19, 2007



The Honorable Kevin Martin

Chairman

Federal Communication Commission

445 12th Street, SW

Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Martin:

At the October 17, 2007 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on the status of the digital television transition, you testified, in part, on facilitating multicast broadcast opportunities. You said that you believe that "the ability to view new broadcast channels would facilitate the transition by providing people with an incentive to get a converter box." And you suggested that the consumer message about the DTV transition should be: "If you get a new digital television or a converter box, you will be able to watch a wide array of new free programming." We write today to say that we believe that the quality of DTV programming, not quantity of DTV programming could be the key to a successful digital television transition.

Multicasting on local cable systems could be the great DTV benefit for US consumers, if broadcasters will better serve the basic needs of their local audiences - not only for children, where the FCC has unanimously supported new rules for DTV, but for everyone with increased local news, electoral and public affairs; more diverse programming for minorities and women; strengthened disability access; and necessary information in times of emergency.

By finally addressing the public interest obligations of digital television broadcasters, the FCC could give the DTV transition the boost it needs to ensure that no viewer -- nor the public interest -- is left in the Analog Age.

For over 12 years, the Commission has recognized the importance of addressing the public interest obligations of digital television broadcasters, but has failed on the legal mandate to do so despite recommendations from a Presidential Advisory Committee, public interest groups, the Commission's own Consumer Advisory Committee and broadcasters themselves.

The obligation of broadcasters to serve local educational, informational, civic, minority, disability, and emergency needs of the public has been created by statute and upheld by the courts. Further guidance from the Commission is necessary to clarify how these public interest obligations apply to DTV broadcasters and to answer outstanding questions raised by the increased technological capabilities of the digital medium. We urge the Commission to issue clear, concrete guidelines on this subject, and to provide notice to regulated entities and the public regarding how broadcasters will continue to fulfill their public interests obligations in the digital age.

Respectfully,

Benton Foundation

Common Cause

Communication Service for the Deaf

Free Press

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Download the letter to view the attachment on the history of digital television broadcasters and public interest obligations.


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