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McDowell Hammers Martin on DTV Call Centers
1/14/2009

Now outgoing FCC Chairman Martin is getting kicked by a commissioner from his own party.

Commissioner Robert McDowell, who could soon be the only Republican to the panel, added to the pile-on at the Consumer Electronics Show, and in a letter on the eve of Martin’s final meeting as chairman, lambasted the commission’s preparation and coordination for a possible crush of inquiries just five weeks from the Feb. 17 transition date.

McDowell specifically criticized the quality, so far, of the call center set up by the FCC to help viewers with the transition. He said his experience at 1-888-CALL-FCC frequently involved busy signals or phones ringing for two minutes before being answered by an automated operator. Callers seeking a live voice get disconnected, and operators don’t seem to be there on weekends.

“In short, it appears the Commission’s efforts to date are inadequate,” McDowell wrote. “As neither I, nor either of our colleagues, have been consulted in advance or otherwise to assist with the tasks at hand, I cannot be certain regarding the extent of the Commission’s shortcomings.

He also expressed concern that Requests for Proposals, including on the all-important outsourced all centers, are still pending. As reported in the Jan. 21 issue of TV Technology, the RFPs for the call center—which Martin said might include as many as 2,300 live operators to help tackle about 125,000 calls an hour during the key first days of the analog shutoff—were due Jan. 9.

“I believe the Commission’s outreach ad call center efforts can be remedied in time, but we have an extraordinary amount of ground to cover in a short period of time,” McDowell wrote. “To accomplish this daunting task, the Commission must be better organized, more energetic, and must coordinate its efforts in a more open and collaborative manner.”

Wednesday Martin was in his home state, North Carolina, on a DTV outreach trip.

In December, Martin told Congress that as many as 7,000 live operators might be needed for the possible call volume, including those in call centers organized by broadcasters, cable companies and others.
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