Commission makes final DTV push, requests nationwide ‘soft test’

With one month to go before all remaining full-power analog TV stations in the United States flip the switch and cease analog transmission, the FCC shifted into high gear May 13 at its open meeting laying out the steps it is taking to target six specific viewer groups with extra assistance so they can maintain TV reception.

The groups (low-income individuals, minorities, non-English speakers, senior citizens, consumers with disabilities and those living in rural areas or tribal lands) are to benefit from special commission attention and activities to offer assistance.

As part of its final push, the commission is calling on TV broadcasters to conduct a “soft test” three times May 21 during which analog programs will be interrupted with a special message telling viewers that if they can see the message they are not prepared. The message will warn them that they will lose reception June 12 if they don’t take steps to prepare. Coinciding with the tests, the commission will launch a communications campaign to raise awareness.

To assist the unprepared, the commission has sent 180 employees to communities in 49 markets with the greatest concentrations of those who are unready. The employees are working with local governments and community groups to raise awareness of the transition and educate people about what to do to prepare.

As of April 26, 3.5 million U.S. households remained “completely unready” for the June 12 DTV transition, according to a Nielsen survey.

The commission also has issued a dozen contracts setting up 400 walk-in centers and 12,000 DTV help clinics nationwide to teach consumers how to connect and use a DTV converter box as well as order their converter box coupons. For people having difficulty installing converter boxes, the commission has signed 34 contracts — with more expected to be signed this week — with organizations to provide free, in-home assistance. Two groups volunteering to help these contractors are AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and firefighters in cooperation with the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Other steps the commission is taking include:

  • Revamping to include a feature that lets people enter their zip code to find a nearby support center and another that shows people what stations they can expect to receive after the June 12 transition;
  • Staffing the FCC’s national helpline with hundreds of operators seven days per week. The commission will increase the number of operators to as many as 4000 as the deadline approaches;
  • A new 15-page booklet written by the Consumer Union’s Consumer Reports providing easy-to-follow instructions and diagrams on preparing is being made available from and via the FCC’s helpline. It also will be available at walk-in centers, mobile clinics and major retailers as well as from in-home installers.