Copps Praises Wilmington, Wants More Test Markets

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Michael Copps visited the people of Wilimington, N.C., this week, praising them for taking the plunge into a (nearly) no-analog world five months before the rest of the nation.

At a “town hall” meeting in the coastal paradise, Copps issued a challenge to other broadcasters and warned that there’s still work to be done before the transition can be called a success.

“In any effort of this scale, there are unknowns that no one anticipates and you find out about only when you throw that switch,” Copps said. “That’s the category that really keeps me up at night. That’s why this test is so important. And that’s why we need other broadcast markets to step up and run tests like this, or at least field tests on more limited parts of the problem, such as robustness of the DTV signal; whether sometimes indoor antennas might have to be replaced by outdoor; and whether there are differences in performance among the various kinds of set-top boxes, to name a few.”

Copps cited more technical questions. “Engineers can run the numbers until the cows come home, but until you actually get out into the real world, you don’t really know how things are going to work,” he said. “How well do those new digital signals travel? Do they travel the way analog TV signals travel? How many people will need new antennas to receive digital? And if they do, are those outdoor antennas for digital when they only needed rabbit ears for their analog sets?”

The FCC and Wilmington officials and broadcasters announced May 8 that the market would shut off its analog signals early to work out issues before the entire nation makes the full-power switch in February 2009 (although the public station and one low-power station will remain in analog, and viewers may be able to receive signals from other markets as well.)

Copps and Martin both have North Carolina connections. Martin received degrees from both the University of North Carolina (where he served as student body president and trustee) and Duke University, and Copps received his doctorate from UNC.