FCC Considers Multi-Million Ad Campaign

Published July 1, 2008

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may spend $2 million in taxpayer funds on advertising related to the congressionally mandated switch from analog to digital television broadcasting. The money would be spent on public education to help Americans understand what the transition is and how to adapt to it.

The spending is allocated in HR 2829, the Fiscal Year 2008 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives. A companion bill is pending in the U.S. Senate.

An existing series of on-the-air advertisements about the analog-to-digital transition is funded by television broadcasters under an FCC mandate.

The government-mandated cessation of analog television broadcasts goes into effect on February 17, 2009. The intent of the change is to free spectrum for other uses, including government use, public safety, and wireless communication.

Analysts Question Spending

Some policy analysts believe the analog-to-digital switch should not have been forced by Congressional fiat and the $2 million slated to educate the public could be better spent elsewhere.

“The [money] spent on public education for the digital TV transition is, first of all, a terrific waste of government money that is the result of an unnecessary government mandate. It would have been better for [the digital TV transition] to come about as the result of market forces, with many people making many individual decisions,” said David Kopel, director of research at the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado.

Kopel said forcing the digital television changeover is not a legitimate function of government. He notes that by mandating the change, Congress created other problems that led to increased spending.

“The federal government should focus its efforts on its legitimate constitutional responsibilities such as killing terrorists,” Kopel said. “The mandatory digital TV transition was a terrible idea, but given the circumstances, the money spent to educate people on the transition was the right thing to do.”

Forced Changeover Unnecessary

Steven Titch, a policy analyst with the Reason Foundation, agrees with Kopel that the federal government was overreaching in forcing the digital TV transition. Though he thinks FCC was right to spend some money educating the public about the change, he considers the full extent of the change to be far beyond what is acceptable government policy.

“This was a waste of money. It falls within the FCC’s authority to notify the public of the change, … [but] it is a fact of life that products and underlying technology evolve, and it is not the government’s role to subsidize conversion,” said Titch.

Aleksandrs Karnick ([email protected]) writes from Indianapolis, Indiana.