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DTV Transition Won't Upset NTIA, FCC Efforts on Broadband; Agencies Say They're Well Staffed on Both Fronts

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WASHINGTON, June 17, 2009 - Last Friday's nationwide transition from analog to digital television doesn't mean a quick refocusing of manpower to broadband stimulus efforts at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, agency officials said.

Coupons for the analog-to-digital converter boxes used to facilitate the switch for households receiving over-the-air signals are valid 90 days from the transition date, said NTIA spokesman Bart Forbes.

This means NTIA must still receive and redeem coupons, and the joint NTIA-FCC call center will be open to field consumer questions well into September, he said. All the work going smoothing the last wrinkles of the transition means that the agency must continue to focus on it “into November, really.”

NTIA is also the lead agency responsible for distributing $7.2 billion dollars -- it has responsibility for $3.7 billion of that amount, versus $2.5 billion allocated to the Agriculture Department -- in federal stimulus dollars. All funds must be distributed by the September, 2010 deadline set by Congress in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which President Obama signed into law this past February.

Of the funds the Act provides for broadband stimulus programs, $350 million are set to go towards broadband data and mapping efforts, since a major goal of the Act is to ensure stimulus funds are being allocated to the areas where they are most needed in an efficient and transparent manner.

But no new immediate efforts will be transferred to work on broadband grant distribution, because the DTV transition effort still involves collecting data from stations, making sure consumers still in need are reached, and reporting back on lessons learned -- tasks that prevent an immediate shift in manpower towards the broadband programs.

But broadband programs will not be given short shrift, Forbes said, because “several different offices” are working on different these separate projects. There are plenty of resources directed at broadband stimulus programs, he said.

The FCC also had much of the work in the swithover to  DTV. But the transition to DTV did go smoother than expected as it caused "no widespread disruption of free, over-the-air television broadcasts," a spokesman for the commission said.

Quite possibly, the aftermath of the switch may prove to progress a little smoother than the FCC originally expected. In that case, stronger efforts may be given to BTOP programs, Universal Service Fund Reform, development of a national broadband strategy. In the mean time, both agencies still have their hands full.

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