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Adelstein Advocates More Analog-Cutoff Tests

Federal Communications Commission member Jonathan Adelstein made an impassioned plea for more tests on the consumer impact of dropping analog-TV broadcasting, including praise for an Oct. 28 test planned in New York, speaking to an Advertising Week session.

“Here in New York City on Oct. 28, they are going to do a soft cutoff, and everybody is participating that can,” said Adelstein, a Democrat on the FCC. He provided no details.

Adelstein lauded ION Media Networks chairman and CEO Brandon Burgess for spearheading a previously announced drive for a series of soft local tests over mid- and late October to prepare for consumer distress for the Feb. 17, 2009, hard cutoff nationally.

“Planning, I think, has been disappointing to say the least” in government, he said. He cited education efforts not highlighting that lower-power TV stations will continue telecasting and said little thought has been given to the dangers of repositioning rooftop antenna in the snow belt, since the national cutoff date is in the middle of winter.

“Nobody’s ultimately responsible for vetting or prioritizing the ideas from both public and private sector into a concrete, comprehensive and coherent plan,” Adelstein asserted. “While our [FCC] staff has been hard at work and despite some recent improvements, our overall DTV effort is not a model of effectiveness.”

One reason why he worries is that he feels that the soft test in Wilmington, N.C., Sept. 8 was misinterpreted as a success. He said projecting Wilmington’s 2,272 consumer calls seeking help in the first week to a national cutoff translates to 2.2 million such calls. “And that’s an optimistic scenario,” he added, because the Wilmington test had more manpower and in-market education than the national cutoff.

“While we can take small comfort in what went smoothly, we should fear what didn’t,” he said. “There is no plan remotely comparable for that kind of outreach nationwide … I think the FCC is continuing to underestimate the task ahead.”

Adelstein was welcomed by Broadcasting & Cable publisher Larry Dunn and Promax/BDA president Jonathan Block-Verk. Promax/BDA and B&C sponsored the session.