Obama asks broadcasters to help consumers prepare for DTV transition

by Kim McAvoy, TV Newsday

The Obama crowd is not waiting for Inauguration Day to begin managing the FCC-regulated media.

At a meeting in Washington last Friday, Obama transition team officials demanded that broadcasters and cable operators establish or help fund call centers to handle the anticipated flood of complaints and questions in the wake of the analog cut-off on Feb. 17, 2009.

The transition officials, led by one-time National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Tom Wheeler, had invited representatives of the broadcast, cable and consumer electronics industries to the meeting to discuss what needs to be done to ensure a smooth and successful DTV transition.

According to industry sources, Wheeler, who heads the Obama review group looking at the FCC and other agencies, suggested that it makes sense for the various segments of the TV industry to pick up the tab for the call centers.

Broadcasters are the beneficiaries of billions of dollars worth of free spectrum and cable operators are gaining more subscribers because of the DTV transition, he said. He also noted that the consumer electronics industry is reaping billions of dollars from the sale of DTV products.

In addition to NCTA, Wheeler once headed the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Today, he is managing director of Core Capital Partners, a high-tech investment firm.

He was joined at the meeting by fellow transition members Larry Irving and Larry Strickling.

Irving is the former head of Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and he serves on the transition's Commerce Department review team.

Strickling comes from the Obama presidential campaign and was the FCC's Common Carrier Bureau chief under former FCC Chairman Bill Kennard. His role on the transition is unclear, but his name has surfaced as a possible FCC chairman.

Sources say that Wheeler, Irving and Strickling ran the meeting.

However, FCC transition team leaders Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach were also on hand. Crawford is a professor of law at the University of Michigan, teaching communications law and Internet law. Werbach is an assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at the University

Broadcaster representatives at the meeting included David Rehr and Jonathan Collegio of the NAB; Kurt Wimmer of Gannett; Scott Blumenthal of LIN TV; Maureen O'Connell and Dianne Smith of Fox; Susan Fox of Walt Disney Co.; Anne Lucey of CBS; and Margaret Tobey of NBC Universal.

Representing cable was National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow.

The Consumer Electronics Association sent Michael Petricone and Jamie Hedlund.

None of the industry organizations or individuals at the meeting would comment on the record. The transition team officials did not respond to repeated phone calls.

However, the transition team asked the industries group to submit ideas and comments about the DTV transition and said it would post them on the Obama-Biden transition Web site.

Setting up and operating one or more DTV call centers is an expensive undertaking.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has promised to dedicate much of the additional $20 million Congress gave the agency for DTV education to funding the agency's call center, which was tested in September when the Wilmington, N.C., market made an early shift to DTV.

NAB's Rehr wrote Martin in October urging the agency to use the extra congressional money to make the FCC call center as "robust and prepared as possible for the massive number of consumer calls that will come in during these last few months before the transition is completed on Feb. 17, 2009."

But whatever the FCC has earmarked for its call center, the Obama team apparently feels it isn't enough.

article originally published at http://www.tvnewsday.com/articles/2008/12/10/daily.12/.

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