Count on DTV transition to disrupt viewers

The United States cannot have “a seamless DTV transition,” but the FCC will do whatever it can leading up to Feb. 17 to minimize the disruption and clean up the aftermath, the acting chairman of the FCC told a commission advisory group.

Speaking Jan. 30 to the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, acting Chairman Michael Copps said that since taking on the interim position, he’s looked under the hood of the DTV transition, and things look even worse from his new vantage point.

“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,” he said. “That time is lost — and it’s lost at a cost.”

Predicting that going forward with the DTV transition Feb. 17 will cause consumer disruption, Copps said the commission must realize it, plan for it, do whatever is possible to minimize it and repair it when it occurs. “This has been the focus of my one week and one day running this place,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan bill to delay the transition until June 12. Last week, the House failed to pass a similar measure by a two-thirds majority, in effect leaving the Feb. 17 transition intact. The measure was taken directly to the floor, requiring the two-thirds majority vote for passage under House rules. The House once again is expected to take up the delay again tomorrow, but this time under rules requiring a simple majority vote.

Copps outlined a series of steps the commission will take between now and Feb. 17 to prepare, including:

  • Closer coordination within the commission, with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the private sector;
  • Increasing efforts to maximize the number of viewers nationwide who have access to “analog night-light” stations;
  • Improving consumer outreach, in particular focusing field operations, Web site and outreach grants on “how to” information;
  • Expanding capacity to handle consumer questions and identifying possible sources of in-home assistance;
  • Coordinating efforts with private and public call centers being developed to create a more unified system;
  • Examining broadcast coverage issues to find where viewers are at the greatest risk of losing reception because some viewers, through no fault of their own, “are going to lose one or more channels as a result of the transition,’” Copps said.

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