01.20.2009 01:15 AM
FCC Unveils $12 Million DTV Call Center Contract

The FCC awarded $12 million to IBM to set up and manage a call center for the DTV transition. The vendor is being brought on to help the commission handle an expected 2 million calls during the week of Feb. 17, when analog broadcast television goes dark across the United States. As many as 400,000 calls are expected the day of the transition.

The money is part of a $20 million war chest Congress provided the FCC nearly four months ago to expedite public education about the impending DTV transition. The commission issued requests for proposals on Christmas Eve, and two weeks ago announced grants totaling $8.4 million given to several grassroots groups. Commissioner Robert McDowell later questioned the process after calling the FCC’s own call center himself and variously getting busy signals or just cut off.

IBM was also the government contractor on the DTV converter coupon program administered through the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That contract, awarded in August, 2007, comprised nearly $120 million over a two-year period, for consumer education, coupon distribution and financial processing. The coupon program ran out of money nearly three weeks ago. The program was originally supposed to distribute coupons through March. Congress has proposed coughing up another $650 million in the economic stimulus package now on deck.

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