FCC Seeks Help In Avoiding DTV Switch Disruption

AmeriCorps members and even firefighters are being asked to help with the June migration from analog to digital television.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

March 27, 2009

2 Min Read

The countdown for the national switch from analog to digital broadcast TV is on again and already there are new reports of a shortage of converter boxes looming.

Michael J. Copps, acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is predicting "consumer disruption" but said the FCC is moving aggressively to mitigate switch problems.

"There will be consumer disruption -- count on it," Copps said in congressional testimony Thursday. "We can provide more focused consumer outreach and support -- especially for our most vulnerable citizens such as the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and non-English speakers. We can deploy 'boots on the ground' to provide walk-in call centers and in-home assistance to many who need it."

Copps spoke at the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. The DTV switch was delayed from February to June to give government, business, and consumers more time to prepare for the change.

The FCC has enlisted hundreds of members of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps to assist individuals having trouble with the DTV switch. The regulatory agency has been crafting a contract with the International Association of Fire Chiefs to enlist firefighters in helping individuals with the DTV switch. Television reception has public-safety overtones and that's spurring municipal, state, and federal government agencies to assist in the switch.

A partial switchover by some TV stations in February and a test DTV switch in Wilmington, N.C., last year demonstrated that more preparation is needed to assist in the national DTV switch. Firefighters in Wilmington, for instance, performed valuable service to many consumers who needed help switching to the digital service.

AmeriCorps teams of eight to 12 members are preparing to assist consumers in scores of regions around the country. A test market for AmeriCorps members will launch in Denver next week.

Copps noted that most stations that have already transitioned to digital broadcasting have generally operated in small and medium-sized markets. "So while about a third of all stations nationwide have transitioned thus far," he said, "only about 15% of TV households have lost two or more network affiliates and only 2.5% of households are in markets that have completely transitioned."

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