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tv   [untitled]  CSPAN  June 8, 2009 8:00am-8:30am EDT

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>> this week on "the communicators," a discussion on the federally-mandated transition to digital television on june 12th. during the program we'll hear from the fcc, a legislator, and an activist group. >> host: well, a decade after it all began, the nation is ready to transition to digital tv.
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and this week on "the communicators" we will talk with several people involved in the process and find out what is going to happen. we're less than a week away. we are joined by bill lake who is the digital television transition coordinator at the fcc. mr. lake, on june 12th what is going to happen on that day and at what time? >> guest: what happens is that analog television by the full-power stations will end. many people think that digital transmission will begin then, but the signals are already there. people who aren't ready to receive the digital signals will lose their television reception. >> host: what time is it going to happen? >> guest: we gave the stations their choice, and they had to report to us, and there will be about 150 stations within the midnight-6 a.m., another equal amount roughly between 6 a.m. and noon and then noon and 6
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p.m. and then the large bulk of stations will go between 6 p.m. and midnight their local time. >> host: on june 12th. >> guest: on june 12th. >> host: how many households do you expect not to be ready? >> guest: the latest estimate is about three million which cuts in half the amount when the extension was made of the transition date. >> host: so in this last week before the transition happens, what is the fcc doing? >> guest: we have a very concentrated outreach effort, about 250 people of our own in the field going to churches, to shopping malls, everywhere they can to reach out to people to tell them both the message is it's time to act, and also to help them know what to do to act. >> host: now, all the public service announcements have said if you have cable or fios or satellite tv, you are okay. is that 100 percent guaranteed?
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>> guest: yes. there are some people who receive satellite, about 20 percent, receive their local stations over the air, and if you're one of those and get your local stations over an antenna, then you need to prepare because those stations over the air won't be in analog anymore, but the great bulk of the satellite people have nothing to do, and that's also true of cable. >> host: now, we have some facts and figures from the national telecommunications agency want to go over with you and have you explain a little bit. so far, 32 million approved households have received or have transitioned. what does that mean, approved households? >> guest: it means they've applied for a coupon to the commerce department, and that application has been approved. that means that they've been -- once it's approved, they're mailed coupons in the mail, and they'll receive them now in about 9-10 days. >> host: and this is the actual coupon, it's just like a credit
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card. >> guest: it's usable only once, and it's good for $40. so when you buy a converter box, you take that coupon in, and it's used as essentially a credit. households entitled to two coupons, so the number of coupons is not twice that but nearly twice that. >> host: now, those are the people who have applied. do people who have cable tv or satellite tv, had they needed to apply? >> guest: no. >> host: okay. >> guest: i take that back. if you have cable in one room of your home but you have another tv in the kitchen or the den and that receives programming over the air, you need to prepare for whatever set receives programming over the air. >> host: 30 million coupons have been redeemed, so what's going to, what's going to happen, are there still 18 million coupons out there? >> guest: that's a coupon we'll see the answer to. the redemption rate has always
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been 50 percent or less. that may mean people are procrastinating, it may also mean some people didn't need the coupons. we've been encouraging people to donate them to people who either aren't qualified to receive them because they live, for example n a rooming house or someone who just isn't ready. >> host: okay. 21 million coupons have expired according to the national telecommunications information agency. how long are they good for? >> guest: they're good for 90 days under the law -- >> host: from when they're mailed? >> guest: yes, mailed. so what happens is if they do expire, you can just apply for a new one. and people should realize that the coupon program doesn't end on june 12th. coupon applications will be accepted through july 31st, and that means they can be mailed roughly then and they will be good into november.
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>> host: okay. 1.4 billion dollars in funds committed. what does that mean? is that what's been spent on the transition so far? >> guest: yes. and most of that is the cost of the coupons. there was also under the stimulus bill about $90 million that was made available for this outreach effort that we're encaged in along with the commerce department. >> host: and $346 million in funds available, does that mean toward coupons for people who haven't converted yet? >> guest: yes. >> host: okay. now, this is one of the converter boxes, and this is what you buy with the coupons, correct? >> guest: yes. >> host: so if you have a tv and you receive this, you just hook this up to your tv. >> guest: yes. >> host: how easy is this? >> guest: it's quite easy for someone who doesn't have a psychological block about it and is comfortable with technology. there are very few places to plug in on the back, as you'll see, and it's a simple matter of plugging your antenna into the
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box and plugging the box into your tv set. we've been offering to send people into the homes of people who aren't comfortable hooking up the box, and they can have the box installed for free in their home. >> host: and how many calls have you gotten? >> guest: they're rolling in daily, but tens of thousands, and we're prepared to have as many as 200,000 free installs for people who need them if the demand is there. >> host: so the fcc also has some call centers, and what's happening there? >> guest: yes. we have trained our agents to answer pretty much every possible question about the transition from where do i get a coupon to why don't i receive my favorite station anymore, what is scanning, this is something that has to be done with a digital television or a converter box, and these agents are standing by to answer all of these questions for a consumer, and the call number is 1-#
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1-#888-call fcc. we'll have this number going 24 hours a day before june 12th. >> host: one of the programs that's offered is called the night light service. >> guest: the law requires that analog broadcasting end on june 12th. period. but it also allowed stations if they wanted to to continue an analog signal that would simply be public safety information and information about the dtv transition. and the problem is if someone wakes up and sees that the screen's gone blank, they won't see a message on the screen of what number to call at the fcc, for example, so a station can continue to broadcast in analog just to provide that basic information. it's a voluntary program, we've encouraged stations to do it, we'd love to see at least one station in every major market do it, but it is voluntary. >> host: well, we also talked with joe barton, former chairman of the energy and commerce committee, and now he's ranking
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men, ranking reflynn on that committee and -- republican on that committee and has been a critic of the extension from january, i'm sorry, from february until june, and we talked with him a little bit about the dtv transition. are we more prepared now for the digital transition than we were in february? >> guest: not really. to the extent we're ever going to be totally prepared, we are prepared then, and we'll be about as prepared now. statistically i think we're about 1.7 percent more prepared now than we were back in february. which means instead of about 97 percent we're going to be about 98.9 percent. but there are going to be a couple percent of the population no matter what time we put the date, they're going to wake up the day of the actual transition and say, what? we've gone all digital today? so, you know, i think it should have happened back in february. the president thought otherwise,
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so they put it off for 90 days. that transition date's coming up here in june in a couple of weeks. and almost everybody in the country will be totally ready, but there'll be a couple of percentage points which translates into 2-3 million tv sets that aren't ready to go. >> host: your district is both urban and rural, what's the status of your district? >> guest: well, when i go out and talk about it, most people are cognizant of it, and they're ready to go. statistically the dallas/forft. worth area is not as ready, but i think in the greatest texas tradition they're waiting until the last moment, and the day before they'll go out and get their converter box, and they'll be totally okay the day of. >> host: as a member of congress, do you think you will
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bear the brunt if people are not prepared and their tvs don't work on june 12th? >> guest: i don't think there's going to be much brunt to bear, but i was chairman when we put the transition in place, and i'm very proud we put a hard date. i'm proud that hard date has already arrived, and while it slipped a little bit, it hasn't slipped that much, and i think the country will be much better off once we get through the transition. there'll be a lot of spectrum that goes to first responders and new telecommunication technologies, and, of course, your picture will be sharpe, brighter, the spectrum that is used for over the air television will be much better utilized. >> host: speaking of that unused spectrum now, what's going to happen to that? do you foresee hearings? when will that spectrum be used? >> guest: a lot of it's already been spoken for, and some of the new systems, some of the new networks that were ready to go
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back in february will finally kick off here in june. to the extent that there's spectrum that is now free that hasn't been spoken for, i would assume that the fcc will hold hearings and eventually come before congress, and we'll probably do another option or something like that. >> >> host: and finally, do you foresee hearings on the transition, how it went and what we learned? >> guest: i think so. chairman markey and before them chairman boucher and chairman markey and chairman dingell have already held a lot of hearings on the transition, so i would think that sometime this fall there'll be some more, and once it's a reality and the fcc commissioners will come forward and the stakeholders out in the country. you know, there is not going to be this huge problem, though, i mean, half the country has already gone digital, and you
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haven't heard any great outcries in those markets. admittedly, they were smaller markets, but there hasn't been -- take the college station market down in my state. things worked fine. so, you know, the usual people who wait until the last moment -- like me. i still haven't got my converter boxes, but i now i've got two weeks to do it. you know, we'll wake up, go get it done, and the country will move forward. >> host: bill lake of the fcc, what did you hear in that interview that you'd like to respond to? >> guest: i agree on a number of things. one is some people will not be ready regardless of the date, we know that. some people don't get their taxes filed on time. i think it was very good for congress to set a hard date so that people will know when this is going to happen and that it will happen and also that the transition itself is a good thing. digital television will be good for tv viewers and the spectrum that's released for other
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purposes will go to very good purposes such as public safety. what i don't agree on was that it was not a good idea to extend the date, and what we found was that there was a substantial number of people, about 6 percent of the homes in the country, weren't ready because there hadn't been sufficient effort to getting them ready. and we think we've made a real dent in that. we've roughly cut it in half in the time since february. in the dallas/ft. worth market part of which is in the congressman's district, the unready percentage has gone from about 10 percent in january to about 6 percent now, and that reflects in part that it's a very diverse district. the unready homes are disproportionately in areas of vulnerable populations, the elderly, low-income families, minorities, families whose first language is not english. they're the hardest to reach, and what we've been concentrating our outreach efforts on those groups, and i
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think with each of those groups we've made substantial progress. >> host: so your call centers would be bilingual? >> guest: yes. we also have the ability to refer calls to a translator service where they can handle 100 languages, so if we get calls in hungarian, we'll be able to handle them. >> host: congressman says half the nation has already gone digital and there haven't been any problems. >> guest: that's a good thing because the tidal wave on june 12th will be smaller, but they tended to be smaller stations and smaller communities. only about 15 percent of the population has been substantially affected by the transition so far. so there's no question that what remains for june 12th will be the bigger wave, and we're trying to prepare so that people who haven't already prepared will know what to do then. >> host: well, we went to one of the stations that hadn't prepared, it's a public station here in washington, d.c., weta.
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>> host: kevin harris, what happens to this station on june 12th? >> guest: june 12th we transition. june 12th at noon we go to our four digital channels. and we're excited about it. it's about time, and basically we go to tv 26 which is more adult public television programming and some kids. we do 24/7 kids on weta kids, we do how-to, how you cook, how you clean, how you fix a house, and then, of course, we have those gorgeous pictures public television is really known for, but now it's in high definition. >> host: why didn't the station make the jump back in february? [laughter] >> guest: you have to talk to the folks on the hill that c-span talks to a lot. you know, we were ready to make the jump, frankly, two years ago. we made a lot of investment. we started two years ago creating our four digital
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channels. we've been broadcasting 24/7 on all of our digital channels since february 1st. and so we've been ready to go. our thing here because we do broadcast to all of our citizens but also to the hill is to show them how multicast can work, especially for our public service broadcaster, local public service broadcaster, so we've been ready to go, but, of course, as you know fcc, obama and everyone wanted to wait until june 12th. so we thought we'd take as long as necessary to inform the public of the change. >> host: as far as your viewers, how important do you think they are? [laughter] >> guest: you know, we've been broadcasting, again, digital forever. we've been doing all of the spots for fcc times ten, so we've been telling everyone what they needed to do to get ready. now, we're public television. we have an older audience, and
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this is a huge change, remember. a lot of people who watch c-span and watch public television have been doing the same thing for 50 years. they haven't realized that this picture they've gotten isn't the best picture. and so they're trying to get ready, trying to get the new equipment, but they're going to have to deal with what we call the cliff effect which is huge in digital. you know, when people talk about buying a new hd set or a beautiful picture, what they don't talk about is the cliff effect, and, you know, when i grew up we had a great reception off the rabbit ears, but it probably wasn't a perfect reception, but we could still get the analog signal. in digital you either get the signal or you don't. >> host: so come june 12th do you think people will be calling here saying, what happened? >> guest: i keep saying it's like the arizona effect, there is no snow.
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you either get it or you don't. some people will, but our folks and the fcc have been very great, the commercial stations in our area and around the country have been really great at informing people about the switch. and so i think there'll be some last minute folks who haven't bought the right equipment or aren't on cable or digital or the satellite. but for the most part i think people will be ready for june 12th. at least i'm hoping. >> host: how much did it cost weta to get ready and do you get government assistance for that? >> guest: cost a lot of money. you know, some people keep saying, oh, it's like going color from black and white. well, sort of, kind of. from a station point, it has been like going color. we had to change the master control which is control central for a television station. we actually have to change our transmitter. i mean, the big tower, we had to
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get a new big tower, a new kind of big tower, we had to get a new master control and all of that, so it cost millions of dollars. now, a lot of people on the street will say, yeah, but you're public television. we don't make the millions of dollars off of news and other commercials that other stations do. but to broadcast public service programming is the same cost as to broadcast, you know, seinfeld repeats at 7:30. and so it costs a lot of money. >> host: did you get assistance from the government? >> guest: we did. the government has been great for public service broadcasters like weta. a lot of grants, 50 percent grants which means we had to raise the other 50 percent what we call capital for equipment and that sort of thing. so we had to redo the studios, we had to redo everything. that has been so helpful. and, you know, individuals have helped in supporting that other
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50 percent. so it costs a lot of money. the good news is just like with c-span when cable went digital, we're not just weta-tv 26, we now have four services, and our mission, period, education programming to as many people as possible. >> host: bill lake, he talked about how much money their corporation had spent on this. how much private money and public money has been spent so far on the digital transition? >> guest: it's been very expensive for the stations. they do have to invest in equipment, and it's come at a rough time. many of the commercial stations are also financially strapped. it has been an expensive transition. one thing i would echo, though, is that it's worthwhile. we've been concentrating in the last few weeks about avoiding disruption which is our principle short-term concern, but i want to remind everyone that the digital transition is
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good for the country. television will be much better even if you don't have a high definition set you'll have a better picture, better sound, and more stations. for example, the multicasting that he refers to, many stations that have been broadcasting just one set of programming will now be broadcasting four or five or more, so people will be receiving more programming than before. i'd also point out that in addition to freeing up spectrum for other uses, going digital is important in this digital age. most of the world has gone digital now. we know what benefits it came with us when cellular telephones went digital. suddenly now there are all sorts of things that phones couldn't do when they were analog, and it just wouldn't make sense for broadcasting to be an analog island in a digital world, so we will come out of this with digital broadcasting in the country, we'll be one of the first countries to have achieved
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the transition, and this will be an area in which we can lead the world in doing the kinds of things possible with digital television that weren't possible with analog. >> host: i know you're a communications lawyer who came on for this job specifically in march 2009, and you're the digital tv coordinator at the fcc, but do you know what's going to happen with the spectrum right away? on june 13th is the auctioned-off spectrum going to be used immediately? >> guest: much of the spectrum has been auctioned and bought by wireless companies, and many of them are prepare today put that spectrum into use quite quickly. there's an additional part that was held back for public safety use, and that the commission hasn't put to use yet, but it's there to have nationwide public safety spectrum. >> host: mr. harris of weta also talked about the cliff effect, and you started taking notes at that point. why? >> guest: there will be reception issues, and we want everyone to understand it's not
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a simple matter of buying your converter box and being sure you'll have good reception. the digital signals will travel somewhat differently from the old analog signals. and one thing we want everyone to remember is that more stations will gain viewers than will lose them, and more viewers will gain programming than will lose it. but there will be people who may lose their favorite station at least temporarily because of these reception issues, and one of the things we're doing is we have engineers standing by who will be available basically around the clock to help field reception issues as they come in and help the broadcasters to deal with them. >> host: well, erica swanson is also joining us. she is with the leadership conference on civil rights, and she is their digital transition, digital tv coordinator. ms. swanson, why is this considered a civil rights issue? >> guest: first of all, thank you. it's a pleasure to be here with you on "the communicators." for many americans this is one of the first times where we're really feeling the impact of the
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decisions that are made in washington, d.c. about communications policy, the impact those have on our lives. this is an issue that is coming into people's living rooms, coming into our television sets, so it really is an important issue that's coming from washington, d.c. but affecting us in our real lives. it's a civil rights issue for a number of reasons. it's an issue about access. many of us enjoy watching "american idol" or dancing with the stars, but it's, of course, about so much more than that. so many american households rely on it's as a primary news source, for information about weather, emergency broadcast, and to find out what's going on in their community, so it's a critical way to stay connected, and it's important that we maintain that access to free over the air television. >> host: what was your message to the fcc when you testified last week at their disaster dtv hearing -- last dtv hearing? >> guest: as we get closer to june 12th, there are a number of critical things that consumers
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and viewers need to do and need to do now. second of all, there are a number of things that people can do to help their neighbors, and third, there are a number of changes that are going to take place after june 12th that may mean there is still considerable work to do. we don't yet know exactly what's going to happen on june 12th and june 13th, what the disruptions will be, what the major challenges will be. we can predict many of them, but in many ways we are learning as we go. this is the nation's first digital television transition, obviously, and we do know we've come a considerable distance since february 17th. that four month extension of the transition deadline gave us more time to prepare these vulnerable communities, but we know there are likely to be hundreds of thousands of americans who are left behind on june 12th. >> host: ms. swanson, you referred to changes after june 12th that will still be happening. what did you mean by that? >> guest: well, there are a number of things that are going to happen after the 12th. we know, for example, that many
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broadcasters will not be broadcasting at their fullest sprent strength on or by the 12th, that in the days, weeks, sometimes months after the 12th broadcasters will be changing the location on the tower from where they send their digital broadcast. some are setting up translators which means the signals are stronger, more households will be able to receive those broadcast signals, but we don't yet know what the full strength of each of the broadcasts in all of the markets will be. we also don't know what the real world impact of interference is going to be. there are some real challenges that people are facing as they install their converter box, their antennas with interference. sometimes it's about the building they live n a concrete building, sometimes it's about a large tree that might sit in front of your house and be between the broadcast station and where your antenna is set up, but we know there will be seasonal variations.
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the first time a snowstorm hits the twin cities, what's going to happen to digital signals on that day? what's going to happen when there is a hurricane or there are real thunderstorms that hit areas of our gulf coast? what's going to happen to those signals? we also don't know what's going to happen with low-power television. those broadcasters are not yet required to transition, may not for a number of months, some for many years. that'll have a consequence especially on households that rely on small community broadcast, especially those in languages other than english. and finally what we don't know is fully who all is going to be impacted by this transition. we know that right now if you're watching television on an older tv and it's not connected to cable or satellite that you'll need to have a converter box, but we also know a lot of cable and satellite subscribers who may be making decisions about cutting their service. >> host: bill lake of the fcc is with us, also, and i'm going to letim


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