McDowell takes Martin to task over DTV call center efforts

January 16, 2009

One of the FCC’s two remaining Republican commissioners has called the commission’s efforts to date “inadequate” when it comes to preparing for the expected deluge of calls from the general public in the weeks leading up to the DTV transition.

A Jan. 14 letter from FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell to Chairman Kevin Martin expressed growing concern about the FCC’s ability to deal with the “crush of inquiries” it will face. McDowell appears to be pinning blame for the state of affairs squarely on Martin.

“As neither I, nor either of our colleagues, have been consulted in advance or otherwise asked to assist with the tasks at hand, I cannot be certain regarding the extent of the commission’s shortcomings,” the letter said.

Among the issues the letter raises is whether efforts to outsource FCC Consumer Center operations remains pending, even after the commission last week announced about $8.4 million in grants to national, regional and local groups to provide such assistance.

Another concern centers on Martin excluding the other commissioners from his call center plans. While McDowell acknowledges industry efforts to provide a coordinated approach, the letter said, “it appears that your fellow commissioners have not been brought into planning discussions concerning this important initiative.”

McDowell shares concern with other transition stakeholders, with just about a month to go until the congressionally mandated shutoff of analog television, that the commission has taken the necessary steps to ensure those selected to answer consumer questions have been educated to a level where they can “satisfactorily resolve unique and likely technical questions.”

Things aren’t any better with the FCC Consumer Center, McDowell said. Through personal experience, McDowell said, the line is frequently busy. When it rings, it often takes two minutes for a menu, rather than a live operator, to pick up. “Moreover, callers that opt for a live operator are sometimes spontaneously disconnected rather than rerouted.”

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