Adelstein Warns of 2 Million DTV Calls

At GV Expo, he blasted the commission for its failure to adequately plan for the transition.

Barely two months before the end of full-power analog broadcasting, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein blasted the commission for its failure to adequately plan for the transition.

Among his remedies: The FCC should upgrade its phone bank to handle 2 million calls in the days following the transition.

Adelstein repeated his longstanding theme that the FCC has failed to take a leadership role, vet public- and private-sector ideas for the transition and produce a strategic plan.

“Because we failed to plan, we’ve been playing catch-up,” he said at the Government Video Technology Expo in Washington Wednesday.

Case in point: Just last month the FCC gave broad approval to Distributed Transmission Systems, which can enable broadcasters to build new facilities to fill in areas left dark by the DTV signals. But that rulemaking sat at the FCC for three years, Adelstein said, squandering the chance for broadcasters to make use of the technology ahead of the Feb. 17, 2009, full-power analog shutoff.

Similarly, he noted, the commission is about to vote on a new system of translator facilities to enhance coverage.

And, Congress is about to pass legislation to allow a 30-day extension of the analog era, for DTV education and emergency purposes. “The Commission needs to begin looking on a market-by-market basis to determine need and availability,” he said.

Adelstein said the early analog shutoff in Wilmington, N.C., shouldn’t give the government a sense of complacency. Only 14,000 households there relied exclusively on over-the-air TV, compared with 13.6 million nationwide. The Wilmington experience translates to 2.2 million households with problems next February, he said.

Adelstein urged more simulated shut-offs, like the batch that took place this week in major markets; regional and even national shut-off tests; and effort of workers, along the lines of a political get-out-the-vote campaign, to reach every community; and a “viral” campaign led by tech-savvy individuals to assist the less technically able.

“But we need to act now, because time is running out,” he said. “As it now stands, the DTV transition is not ready for primetime.”