Copps to Martin: The DTV devil is in the details

While it’s still too early to know all of the lessons to be learned from the Wilmington, NC, DTV conversion, one thing is clear: TV viewers need specific, practical advice about DTV reception problems, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wrote in a letter to Chairman Kevin Martin Sept. 12.

“Each consumer making the transition faces a unique set of issues and a unique set of challenges,” Copps said in the letter. “Unless we sharpen our approach to reflect that reality, we face the possibility of enormous consumer disruption on Feb. 17, 2009 — now less than 160 days away.”

Copps zeroed in on the approach the commission and stations have taken to informing the public of the DTV transition as a source of the problem. To date, much of the publicity effort has sought to increase consumer awareness of the transition and give general advice about how to prepare, he said. While important, these steps do not go far enough. Efforts must be directed at helping consumers understand specific problems they could encounter once analog is switched off, he said.

Early analysis of the Wilmington transition, shows “the great majority of residents who sought help in the wake of the switchover had specific technical problems — e.g.,converter box installation issues, antenna or other reception problems — and sought individualized assistance from the FCC and others,” he said. PSAs with general information about the transition “would have done them no good; they needed specific help for their specific problems.”

Copps offered nine specific suggestions the commission should take to address the problem, including:

  1. Conduct additional field testing
  2. Dedicate a special FCC team to the needs of at-risk communities
  3. Ramp up the FCC Call Center
  4. Prepare comprehensive DTV contingency plans
  5. Create an online DTV consumer forum
  6. Educate consumers on DTV troubleshooting, including antenna issues and the need to “rescan” converter boxes and sets
  7. Ensure that broadcasters meet their construction deadlines
  8. Encourage the rapid deployment of small, battery-powered DTV sets
  9. Find a way to broadcast an analog message to consumers following the transition

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