Broadcasters and former FCC chairmen endorse DTV delay

ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC support a delay in the analog shutdown. So do former FCC chairmen William Kennard and Michael Powell. However, the Bush administration has remained silent on the issue.

“President-elect Obama’s call to extend the DTV transition deadline is prudent and well-considered, helping to ensure that all over-the-air households are ready to receive digital signals on the new transition date,” said NBC in a statement. “We look forward to working with the new Administration and Congress to implement the President-elect’s proposal.”

FOX said its “first concern is what’s best for our viewers, and we believe that the Obama-Biden Transition Team shares our concern.”

In Friday’s “New York Times,” former FCC chairmen Kennard and Powell wrote an op-ed article —titled “Don’t Touch that Dial”— endorsing the delay. They said “with 40 days to go, it is now clear that we are heading for a train wreck unless Congress delays the transition for a few months to allow more time to prepare.”

The FCC chairmen said as many as 19 million American households still rely solely on over-the-air analog television, and perhaps another 19 million use over-the-air in combination with cable or satellite. This population is disproportionately made up of poorer households, the elderly and members of minority groups, they wrote.

Kennard and Powell said the government is unprepared to handle the volume of calls from confused television viewers once the switch to digital occurs. Nearly 1.5 million calls are expected to come into a special FCC call center on each of the two days following the transition, but this center will be able to handle only about 350,000 calls a day, they wrote.

Moreover, many people, they wrote, will need help hooking up their converter boxes and setting up their antennas. (Picking up the digital signal may require reorienting or moving an antenna, or buying a more powerful digital antenna.) The government should train community groups to give assistance to those who need it.

“By delaying the switch to digital by just a few months, and spending more money on the program —which the Obama transition team hinted on Thursday that it might favor — we could provide enough coupons and establish a stronger call center,” Kennard and Powell wrote. “There would be time for manufacturers to put more converter boxes in the pipeline. And we’d have enough time to work with community groups to provide technical assistance and support to the people who need it.”

If the transition to digital TV goes badly, the former chairmen noted, it will inconvenience millions of people. “There is no reason to rush toward a fiasco when we can just as well take the time to make sure the change happens smoothly,” they wrote.