Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps this week criticized the government’s handling of the DTV transition and offered a multi-faceted plan for damage control.
In remarks to the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee, Copps warned that “the next few weeks are going to be extremely difficult--as difficult as any that this Commission, and millions of TV consumers, has [sic] ever faced.”
Between now and Feb. 17, Copps said all groups involved, including the FCC, NTIA, and the private sector, need to better coordinate efforts. He also called for the approval of more “nightlight” stations and the development of an outreach plan to provide information to those disenfranchised viewers needing to regain television access. He also advocated expanded support for those most affected by the shutdown, improved coordination among existing or planned call centers, and identification of those viewers in greatest danger of losing TV reception.
Copps cited the “law of unintended consequences” as part of the failure to position the nation’s television broadcasting efforts where they should be in 18 days.
“It's because we didn't have a well thought-out and coherent and coordinated plan to ease the transition—a plan to combine the resources we needed to avoid disruption,” Copps said. “Unfortunately, things don't look any better now that I've had a chance to look under the hood since becoming acting chairman. If anything, they look worse.”
Copps described the government’s history of interfacing with the television viewing public about the transition as a “patchwork of disjointed efforts” and admitted that there was no glimmer of reversing the situation before the ax falls.
“There is no way to do in the 26 days new leadership has had here what we should have been laser-focused on for 26 months,” Copps said. “That time is lost--and it's lost at a cost. We cannot make it up. There is consumer disruption down the road we've been on. We need to realize this.”
Copps admitted that even the planned eleventh hour efforts by the Commission would not fully address the chaos that seems almost certain to happen.
“All the ‘how to’ advice in the world won't help a consumer if the signal doesn't reach them,” Copps said. “There is consumer disruption down the road we've been on. We need to realize this. We need to plan for it.”
Copps acknowledged the great deal of hard work that has been done to get the country ready for DTV, but also criticized those in charge in certain areas. In referring to those efforts to prepare the public for the transition, Copps said there was a great obligation to let viewers know exactly what was in store and what options were available, but this hadn’t really happened.
“That we did not understand this better long ago through better analysis, tests and trial runs is, to me, mind-boggling,” he said.
Copps also took the opportunity to call on the Consumer Advisory Committee to move out at top speed to address neglected DTV closed captioning and video description issues, saying that he had long been a proponent of moving these matters along, but had not had the power to do so.
“The FCC needs to take a leadership role in addressing these problems,” Copps said. “I don't believe we can finish this important effort before the transition date. Had we acted when you first made the recommendation, maybe we could have. But this is not the time to cast stones back over our shoulders; it's time to look forward and commit ourselves to working together-government, industry, and consumers-to solving these problems.”
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James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others. He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.