Status of DTV Transition – Testimony of Mark Lloyd

Location: Federal Communications Commission

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund has been working to inform Americans about the transition to digital television for over a year.  We were a co-founder of the DTV Transition Steering Committee and developed close working relations with the NAB, APTS, as well as NTIA, and others such as AARP.  For much of 2008 we conducted a national campaign enlisting many of the Leadership Conference member organizations including the National Council of La Raza, the National Urban League, the Association of People with Disabilities, the Southeast Asian Action Resource Center, the NAACP and others at conferences and through media outreach, including our website. As a result of an award from NTIA in late November we have been on the ground in seven markets: Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Antonio, and Seattle/Tacoma. 

We have hired one local coordinator for each of these markets.  Our field department is working with these local coordinators and dozens of local groups in all our communities, both through the 17 DTV ASSISTANCE CENTERS (about 2-3 in each market) and other partners on the ground (both paid and volunteer).  Our DTV Assistance Centers and other partners help roughly 100 walk ins, and telephone callers every day.  Much of our work in December and January involved training people.  Our local community based partners provide a variety of services, from completing NTIA DTV coupon applications, to helping people donate and receive coupons, to assisting people identify and locate the converter box best for them, to answering questions about digital TV reception, to helping in their homes set up their converter box.  And yes they track all of their work and make formal reports on a monthly basis.     

Our materials include original LCCREF documents, as well as documents from NTIA, the FCC, the NAB, the Consumer Electronic Retailers Coalition, Consumers Union and others.  We have also received generous donations of converter boxes from LG Electronics and have distributed those along with antennae we purchased for all our local partners.

We are also working with local and national mainstream commercial and public service media, and have strong relations with ethnic media through New America Media.  Our local media partners are not just reporters, they have been actively engaged in our planning and our meetings to understand how to proceed with each of the communities we are trying to reach.  They help us with tactics, culture sensitivity and language.  We have provided radio public service announcements and editorials in several languages.  Generating a considerable amount of media attention where it did not exist before, and creating more work for our local partners.

Some of the local groups, like Anni’s at Self Help for the Elderly, were already working on the DTV transition, most were not.  We developed both national and with our local partners extensive unique local work plans geared toward a transition on February 17.  A good deal of our time in January and early February was spent on answering questions about the government running out of money, the proposed delay, the defeated delay, the delay that passed but didn’t quite mean that all the stations would delay. 

All of our assistance centers were inundated with calls on February 17 and the two days that followed.  Many of the calls were about reception problems, but for the most part they reflected a general confusion about the transition.  The calls petered out after those first few days, but the confusion still continues. 

We are now providing daily news updates to some 70 people working on our front lines.  We cull news articles and reports that we get from our contacts here at the FCC, at NTIA, the White House, and on the Hill.  But we also provide a central hub for all of our different partners to learn and share with each other. 

Our work as trainers, explainers, coordinators and grantors is all of one piece.  There has been talk of providing small grants of $5000 to support local work.  While local community groups need all the help they can get, you should know that our grants range between $10,000 and $20,000, and all of our assistance centers tell us that they underestimated the amount of staff time this effort would take.  In other words, they need more money than we have been able to provide.  We believe that a key to our work has been to locate trusted partners in each of these communities, but we also hear from them that our role as a hub is vital. 

Our award from NTIA ends on May 1. We were looking forward to winding this work down this month, and focus on reporting in April.  We are now developing plans on how our work will change as this transition extends through mid-June.  We are all up in the air as to whether we will be funded and as to whether we will be about continue to play our role as a vital hub and continue to fund our partners. 

We believe free over the air television service is a vital lifeline for all Americans.