The chairman of the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) has been given the label of "Porker of the Month" by a government watchdog group for using $355,000 in taxpayer money to sponsor a NASCAR driver.
In an effort to promote the upcoming transition to digital television, FCC chairman Kevin Martin spent $355,000 to sponsor David Gilliland's No. 38
car for three NASCAR races. The deal included signs on the car and tracks highlighting the need to prepare for the digital TV switch.
On Feb. 17, 2009, television stations will begin broadcasting in
digital signals instead of analog, freeing up valuable airwaves for
both public safety announcements and wireless providers. The problem is that televisions that only receive their programming via the old fashion "rabbit ear" antennas will no longer be able to receive network stations unless they purchase a converter box.
DTV Public Service Announcement
Congress has awarded the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a branch of the Department of Commerce, $5 million for education efforts. The amount pales in comparison to the $400 million the UK spent to make a similar switch for a much smaller population. That's mostly because the government is relying on the private sector, particularly retailers, to spread the message about the upcoming digital TV transition.
In defense of the sponsorship, Martin said, "I believe this sponsorship
is an extremely effective way for the FCC to raise DTV awareness among
people of all ages and income levels across the United States who
loyally follow one of the most popular sports in America."
David Williams, vice president of policy for Citizens Against Government Waste, doesn't buy it, calling the FCC media buy "reckless" and "unnecessary." He even went on to suggest that Martin is using the NASCAR ads to bolster his future political prospects in his home state of North Carolina, should the FCC Chair be replaced next year though no proof of this was offered.
NBC DTV transition special: