FCC, NTIA gear up for final DTV push

Both the FCC and the National Telecommunications Information Agency are clearing hurdles to make the DTV transition a success, but some viewers will be left behind, Michael Copps, acting chairman of the FCC, warned last week

Despite delaying the final shutoff of analog TV until the summer, the DTV transition June 12 will leave some viewers behind, but far fewer and less vulnerable than those who would have been left in the dark if the transition had gone forward on Feb. 17, the acting chairman of the FCC told a House subcommittee last week.

Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, Michael Copps, acting commission chairman said that while the DTV transition this summer “will not be seamless,” the time granted by the extension will “make a real difference” in mitigating problems.

During his testimony Copps identified several key areas in which the commission is taking action to minimize the disruption to viewers when the DTV transition is completed. These include:

  • Better consumer education: Revised commission rules now require broadcasters to inform viewers about areas where signal loss will occur, the need to use the rescan function on their DTVs and converter boxes and the importance of having a proper antenna to maintain reception.
  • Better targeted outreach: Working with the National Telecommunications Information Agency, the commission has built a list of 49 hot spots to be targeted with greater outreach efforts.
  • Better “boots on the ground:” The FCC is identifying local organizations to provide in-home assistance with converter boxes and antennas. Copps pointed to a variety of efforts, including finalizing an agreement with the International Association of Fire Chiefs to work with members to enlist fire service workers to volunteer to assist with converter box installation.
  • Better call centers: The commission has developed training materials to better equip call center workers to resolve caller problems with converter boxes and DTV reception.
  • Better signal coverage/better information about signal coverage: The commission has developed rules covering distributed transmission systems and “fill in” translators so broadcasters have authorization to use tools that will deliver coverage to audience that will lose signal after the transition. The commission also is focusing on stations along the Mexican and Canadian borders wishing to maximize their service and working with each country’s respective regulators to facilitate an “expedited review” of the maximization requests.

Government actions to deal with the final push towards DTV are not confined to the commission. Last week, the NTIA announced it had begun accepting requests from households with expired DTV converter box coupons for replacement coupons. Additionally, the agency has begun using funds made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to clear the list of people waiting for DTV converter coupons. All new requests for converter coupons will be processed in no more than nine days, the agency said.