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DTV Transition Stretches On

WASHINGTON: Julius Genachowski focused on the task at hand and his cause de celebre during his first open meeting as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. For now--the DTV transition. Up next--wireless broadband deployment.

“There are consumers and individual broadcasters who still need our help,” Genachowski said. “Therefore, I want to make clear that our doors and phone lines remain open for consumers who need assistance in the days and weeks ahead. We also will continue to collaborate with broadcasters to find the most effective and efficient ways to improve their service, and we look forward to hearing their ideas.”

Call centers have handled more than 1 million calls from consumers seeking help so far, Bob Ratcliffe, acting chief of the Media Bureau, said. FCC engineers have been sent to several markets to troubleshoot interference and reception issues. Solutions may involve new antennas, new translators or temporarily allowing some stations to operate at higher power, he said because the DTV signals of some stations are having trouble penetrating buildings. The FCC is granting some stations, like WJZ-TV, Baltimore, waivers to operate at higher power while they wait for new antennas.

Genachowski and Commissioners Michael Copps and Robert McDowell also heard an update on plans to coordinate a national broadband plan policy. Blair Levin, who was chief of staff under former Chairman Reed Hundt, has returned to the agency to help coordinate that effort.

The group working on that effort has beta launched a Web site: to make the development process more transparent and make it easier for the commission to receive public input on the effort, Levin said. The group hopes to have information ready in September on the current state of broadband deployment, both here and in other countries. The final policy plan is due to Congress Feb. 17, 2010.

All three commissioners called the broadband rollout even more transformative than the 1996 Telecommunications Act in terms of its effect on the nation’s economy. Genachowski called for an aggressive game plan, saying there must be a strategy to make sure regular Americans can afford broadband. He also cautioned that “we can unlock the power of spectrum,” however, “the reality is we are slipping. Other countries have faster connections for lower prices.”

Genachowski said it was the first open monthly FCC meeting he’s attended since 1997, during the Reed Hundt era. -- includes reporting from Radio World