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FCC Outlines Help Plan As DTV Switch Deadline Nears

Plan calls for dispatch of 180 FCC employees and thousands of volunteers to help consumers make the DTV transition June 12.

With the deadline for switching to digital television (DTV) less than a month away and at least 3.5 million Americans "completely unready" for the change, the Federal Communications Commission voted this week to launch an aggressive campaign to smooth the way to the DTV transition.

FCC commissioners approved an outreach plan that calls for the dispatch of 180 FCC employees and thousands of volunteers to help consumers make the transition on June 12 when all full-power TV stations are scheduled to stop analog transmission and switch to digital broadcasting only.

"Television is a primary source for news, weather, and public safety information for many Americans," said acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps after the commission's monthly meeting Wednesday. "So the FCC is working overtime to reach those remaining viewers who still have not taken the necessary action to continue to receive television programming."

Noting that more than a third of U.S. broadcast stations already have switched to DTV, the FCC said it plans to provide special attention to groups in need -- low-income individuals, minority communities, non-English-speaking consumers, senior citizens, consumers with disabilities, and individuals in rural areas and tribal lands. The Nielsen ratings organization recently estimated that 3.1% of U.S. TV households -- 3.5 million households -- were "completely unready" for the transition.

The FCC noted that it has redesigned its DTV Web site, which includes a 15-page consumer guide to help consumers. The "DTV Made Easy" guide, written by Consumer Reports, can be downloaded or obtained by calling the FCC DTV help line, 1-888-CALL-FCC.

In addition, the FCC has asked television broadcasters to conduct "soft tests" of the switch on Thursday, May 21, so consumers can determine whether they will be able to receive programming when the real switch takes place on June 12.

The test consists of special messages informing viewers that they aren't prepared to receive a digital signal if they can see the messages. Consumers who need converter boxes to receive the new digital signals can order a $40 coupon -- good toward the purchase of a converter box -- from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by calling 1-888-DTV-2009.

The FCC has moved to establish as many as 400 walk-in centers and 12,000 DTV help clinics across the country to assist consumers in the switch. The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and the International Association of Fire Chiefs also have worked to establish a program to help consumers by making home visits to help install converter boxes.

"Consumers should know that help is available through a wide range of sources -- including the phone, the Internet, walk-in centers and clinics, and in-home assistance," said Copps.

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