Remarks of Acting Assistant Secretary Baker at the 142nd Annual Convention of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry

November 14, 2008

Remarks of Meredith Attwell Baker, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce
(As Prepared)

142nd Annual Convention of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry
Cromwell, Connecticut
November 14, 2008

Introduction

Thank you, Ed, for that kind introduction.  I am delighted to be here today and to have the privilege to address the 142nd Annual Convention of the National Grange.

If I’m not mistaken, this is a first for an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information.  I am honored to have that distinction and, knowing of the Grange’s interests in telecommunications issues affecting rural America, I’m confident the relationship will continue well into the future.
           
For those of you who may not know, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce established 30 years ago to advise the President on domestic and international telecommunications and information policy issues.  Among its responsibilities, NTIA manages the use of spectrum by Federal government agencies; it performs state-of-the-art telecommunications technology research; and it administers a program supporting the planning and construction of public telecommunications facilities.

Our portfolio grew significantly three years ago with the enactment of the Digital Television Transition & Public Safety Act of 2005.  This historic legislation directs NTIA to establish several new programs related to the law’s primary purpose – the switch to digital television broadcasting beginning February 18, 2009.

That means we’re now just 95 days away from the switch to digital television.  And because the impact on rural households may be greater than for others, I’ve come to Cromwell today to arm you with the information you’ll need to ensure that your household is prepared, and to encourage you to help others do the same.

The DTV Transition

Under the law, all full power television stations are required to shut off their analog signals at midnight, February 17, 2009, and from then on, only broadcast in digital.  The digital format offers viewers improved picture and sound quality and more programming options.  Because it is a more efficient technology, valuable radio spectrum will be freed up for improved public safety communications and new commercial wireless services.

If you have an analog television that receives signals over-the-air using rabbit ears or a roof-top antenna, three options are available to keep your household with working television service.  You can:  purchase a set with a digital tuner; subscribe to cable, satellite, or other pay service; or purchase a digital-to-analog converter box that will convert incoming digital signals to analog for viewing on your analog set.
If a converter box is your choice, NTIA is here to help.  Through our TV Converter Box Coupon Program, eligible households can receive up to two $40 coupons redeemable with the purchase of a coupon-eligible converter box sold by a participating retailer.  But again, with only 95 days until the switch to digital occurs, you don’t have much time to spare. 

Apply, Buy & Try

The good news is we have done a great deal to make the task at hand an easy one.  We call the three-step process:  APPLY, BUY, and TRY.

While each situation is unique, we anticipate that from the date a consumer applies for a coupon, it will take about 6 weeks to complete the process.

Step 1 is APPLY.  Go to the Coupon Program website, www.dtv2009.gov, to complete an application or call 1-888-DTV-2009, to apply for up to two $40 coupons per household.  You can also apply by mail or fax.  From the time of you submit an application until the coupons are delivered to your home by U.S. mail, it will take about 2-4 weeks.

Step 2 is to use the coupons before the expiration date printed on each Coupon and BUY a coupon-eligible converter box at a participating retailer.   Your coupons will come enclosed with a listing of nearby participating retail outlets, as well as telephone and online retailers that sell coupon-eligible converter boxes and can redeem coupons.  You should probably do a little homework in advance and call area retailers to ensure they have the converter you want in-stock.

Step 3 is to TRY the box on your analog set immediately when you bring it home and trouble shoot for any reception issues you may experience.  Don’t wait to try the converter on February 18.   Most full-power broadcast stations are already transmitting digital signals, so you can immediately connect the box, make sure it works, and enjoy a better television picture.

Earlier this year, the city of Wilmington, North Carolina, became the first area in the nation to switch to digital as a test pilot.  We learned a key lesson from Wilmington, and that is consumer need to allow time to hook up their box and troubleshoot for potential problems.

So again, with a minimum of six weeks to complete the process, the time to begin to APPLY, BUY and TRY is now.

Coupon Program Status

We are very encouraged the Coupon Program is so popular with consumers.  Since its launch on January 1st, 2008, the Program has received and approved applications from nearly 18.5 million households for over 34.5 million coupons.  Of those, we estimate that 62 percent of households that rely on over-the-air broadcasting have already applied for coupons.

We also know that over 14 million coupons have been redeemed with the purchase of coupon-eligible converter boxes.  185 converter boxes have been certified by NTIA, and about 80 of these models are currently on the market.

Among the total are 108 converters that include an analog pass-through capability.  These boxes can be used to switch between full-power digital stations and low-power, Class A and translator stations that will continue to broadcast analog signals.  Let me explain because I realize many rural communities depend on translator stations.

While all full-power television stations are required to transition to digital-only broadcasts on February 17, 2009, low-power, Class A, and translator television stations have no such mandate.  Most of these stations will continue to broadcast in analog after February 17, 2009.

NTIA is administering two other programs to support these stations through the DTV transition, including one we will soon launch to help transition them from analog to digital.  But until they make the switch, and you’re a viewer of these stations, an analog pass-through converter will provide a helpful solution.

So, before you purchase a converter box, be sure to know if any of the stations you watch are low-power, Class A or translator stations that will continue analog broadcasting after full-power stations make the digital switch.
           
We have more than 2,300 retailers with nearly 35,000 outlets nationwide participating in the Program and selling coupon-eligible boxes.  Among them are the largest consumer electronics retailers – Best Buy, Radio Shack, Circuit City, Walmart, Target and Sears.  In addition, many hundreds of regional chains and local retail establishments are also participating.  And, as I mentioned earlier, we have 50 telephone and online retailers also participating in the Program.

Consumer Education for Rural America

I trust that all of this information is known at least to some of you.  I say that because we have undertaken a very active public education campaign, and partnered with hundreds of other organizations, to inform American consumers about the DTV transition and the Coupon Program.

We have targeted those expected to be most at risk of losing their television service when the switch occurs.  This includes senior citizens, the disabled, minorities, economically-disadvantaged Americans, and citizens who live in rural areas.

The National Grange is one of our valued and trusted rural-based partners.  I want to thank the Grange for its leadership in helping raise awareness through the state and local chapters and communicating directly with rural Americans.

We have also benefited from actions taken by several of the state Grange chapters – for example, the Pennsylvania State Grange hosted a workshop this past summer to educate its members about the DTV transition and the Coupon Program.  And last month, the Montana State Grange distributed Program material and applications at its annual convention.  So my thanks also goes out to the chapter organizations that are also helping to get the word out.

Within the Federal government, we have leveraged communications with rural citizens and communities through USDA’s Rural Development agency, the Food and Nutrition Service, and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Services.  These agencies have helped tremendously to use existing channels to convey information about the transition and the Coupon Program.

Other rural-based partners include the Appalachian Regional Commission, the National Association of Rural Health Clinics, and the National 4-H.  In fact, the National Collegiate 4-H selected the DTV transition as their 2008 National Service Project.  This means that each 4-H chapter will carry out at least one DTV project using materials we have made available to them.
All of 270 members of the national DTV Coalition – some serving targeted populations, others that reach broader audiences – represent a truly historic public-private partnership dedicated to making the DTV transition a reality for all Americans.

An array of consumer education materials – available on “partners” link of our webpage – can be used and adapted to help raise awareness with citizens back in your organizations, states, and communities.  I hope you take advantage of them within your local and state Granges after you’ve applied for your own coupons.

Conclusion

In conclusion I’d like to challenge each you.  After you’ve taken the steps to make sure your household is DTV ready, lend a hand to someone else. 

Your can help prepare a family member, friend, or neighbor by informing them about the transition, sending them to our webpage, or filling out and submitting an application for them.  You can assist someone in your community likely to be more vulnerable to losing their TV service, such a senior citizen, to APPLY, BUY and TRY.  Or you can post a prominent DTV transition link from your webpage to ours, www.dtv2009.gov, or to the FCC DTV webpage, www.dtv.gov.

As stated in the Grange mission statement:  “The Grange provides opportunities for individuals and families to develop to their highest potential in order to build stronger communities and states, as well as a stronger nation.”

We are grateful for your role and appreciate your help to ensure the DTV transition is a success.  I thank all of you for realizing this core mission by supporting our efforts to bring the benefits of digital television to the nation.

Thank you for your attention.  I will be happy to answer questions.