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Remarks of Acting Assistant Secretary Baker at the Consumer Electronics Association Washington Forum

April 03, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008
Washington, DC

Meredith Attwell Baker
Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, U.S. Department of Commerce

Remarks for AS Baker
RE: The Wilmington, North Carolina, Digital Television Transition Test Market
Event to be held at City Hall from 10:30 to noon

Thank you to the people of Wilmington, North Carolina, and to the leaders assembled in this room who have made a historic journey over the past four months, a transition completed five and a half months ahead of the rest of the country. It’s just amazing. But who would have doubted that the state that was “First in Flight” would also be the sight of the first city to experience fully the Future of Television—Digital Television.

We are pleased that the major stakeholders in this digital transition stepped up their efforts in Wilmington, to what appears to be great success. For example, local broadcasters were great in changing their messaging quickly, so that those consumers who needed to hear about and act on the earlier September 8, 2008, transition date, did so and were not confused. We thank them and the leadership of the National Association of Broadcasters for spearheading this early transition.

(ASIDE) The temporary analog shutdowns also are useful to help consumers pinpoint whether they really need a converter box.

The consumer electronics industry and box manufacturers stepped up with converter box donations to nursing homes and troubleshooting advice for consumers.

Local firefighters and community groups have helped with technical assistance, including helping consumers fill out applications and converter box installation for vulnerable community members.

And the FCC staff have mobilized local organizations on the ground and worked hard so that as few consumers as possible are adversely affected by the transition.

Here are the numbers that underscore the enormous efforts achieved to date:

? Through yesterday (Sept. 7, 2008), over 69,000 coupons have been requested from over 37,500 households in the Wilmington, N.C., Designated Market Area (DMA).

? About 47 percent of the requests are coming from households that rely on over-the-air broadcasts.

? Over 28,000 coupons have been redeemed in Wilmington, N.C., through yesterday September 7, 2008.

? Since the announcement was made on May 8, 2008, making Wilmington a test market, coupon requests have grown by over 300 percent. This compares to about 94 percent for the nation as a whole.

? We thank the 38 retailers in the Wilmington market who have ensured that boxes are available. They have made the adjustments to ensure the right kind of boxes are available, including pass-through boxes. We are pleased by the companies that have made available a converter box option for folks using certain battery-powered analog TVs. (Battery Pack from Winegard, for example, would allow up to 18 hrs of power using 6 “D” cell batteries)

Commerce and NTIA are working hard to ensure that the TV Converter Box Coupon Program is a big success for consumers. So it’s exciting and rewarding to begin to see signs – through this test market’s success – that the digital transition can occur seamlessly if we all roll up our sleeves, work together, and do what’s necessary to make it happen.

Of course, our job is not done. Commerce continues to work very hard to target our resources on the populations and parts of the country that need our assistance the most.

From our involvement in the test market to date, what is coming into sharper focus as I stand before you today is two points. First, it is critical that over-the-air consumers act early, to prepare themselves well in advance of the transition date, so they can avoid any rush that might occur at the end, and to give them time to troubleshoot any issues that might arise. And, second, getting this message out is all of our responsibility. I can’t say enough about the historic private-public partnership that we are leading, in partnership with the FCC and our industry partners. When governments, industry and nonprofit groups coordinate closely, as is the case in Wilmington, the whole truly does become greater than the sum of its parts.

Thank you all very much.