Clarification on DTV Conversion Program

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Steve Ewald, WV1X, ARRL Field Organization Team Supervisor writes to all ARRL Section Managers:

In early December, the ARRL was contacted by Mr. George Dillon of the FCC and asked to aid in the DTV conversion program by providing technical education for communities.  We liked the idea and opportunities it presented.  But it has come to our attention that there is now some misunderstanding on the part of a few FCC field offices, state broadcaster’s associations, and other broadcast industry representatives about the scope of the ARRL/FCC program to assist in the digital television conversion. The issue is whether or not individual radio amateurs should or will do actual DTV converter box installation and programming. The installation and programming of DTV converter boxes in people’s homes is not, repeat not, part of the ARRL program.

As proposed to ARRL by FCC staff in Washington, the nature of the assistance to be provided by Amateur Radio clubs was that of information dissemination to individuals and groups. The FCC and ARRL believe that the well-known technical skill of radio amateurs is a valuable community resource that can help non-technical people get ready for the DTV conversion (the deadline for which is still not firm -it may be either February 17, 2009 or some time in June of 2009). When the FCC contacted ARRL about this program, they proposed that ham clubs might invite the public from their communities to their meetings, or sponsor a public gathering, to provide information about the program, answer questions, and perhaps offer a demonstration. ARRL views this program as beneficial in several respects. It helps the community; it introduces the public to the benefits of Amateur Radio; and it brings new people to Amateur club meetings who may wish to become licensed once they see what a great avocation we have. Finally, it provides a good topic for a program at a club meeting.

But no part of the program we agreed upon involves having hams going into people’s homes to hook up converter boxes, and ARRL is not asking hams or clubs to do so.

Recently, based on an apparent misunderstanding about the scope of the program, some FCC district offices have asked ham clubs to do DTV converter box installations. So have state broadcaster’s association representatives and some network or station affiliates. If an individual radio amateur wishes to volunteer to do a DTV converter box installation or program the device for a neighbor or friend, or for any member of their community, that is a decision that the individual radio amateur must make for himself or herself, but it is not part of the ARRL/FCC program.

Please also note, there are some state laws regulating low voltage electrical and electronic installations that might prohibit unlicensed individuals from doing this, even as a volunteer. There are also liability issues that should be considered. For that reason, the FCC in Washington specifically assured ARRL that no part of the ARRL’s assistance by radio amateurs in the DTV conversion process involves converter box installations or programming. The ARRL/FCC program is strictly in the nature of an educational effort in a public setting.

Meanwhile, many clubs and groups have been getting excellent publicity in their communities and on regional TV by discussing and showing information about the conversion.  >From community meetings to “information nights,” mall displays and daily spots on television (usually with the weather reports), the hams are being seen as technologically savvy and helpful people.

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