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Copps: More Focused DTV-Transition Efforts

Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps, a driving force behind the FCC's Wilmington, N.C., digital-transition test, came up with a list of steps the FCC should take in response to lessons learned out of the early analog cutoff, including more field testing, a contingency plan, better education about the need to rescan the channels and getting consumer messages out to analog viewers beyond the transition date.

In a proposal to FCC chairman Kevin Martin Friday, Copps said that unless the FCC "sharpens its approach" to the transition, "we face the possibility of enormous consumer disruption Feb. 17, 2009 -- now less than 160 days away."

Copps pointed to the results from Wilmington indicating that "the great majority of residents who sought help in the wake of the switch-over had specific technical problems -- e.g., converter-box-installation issues, antenna or other reception problems -- and sought individualized assistance from the FCC and others."

He added, "Generalized PSAs [public-service announcements]" would have done those folks "no good."

Martin had no response to the individual suggestions, but spokesman Clyde Ensslin said: "We always appreciate the ideas presented by the commissioners. It is going to take a collective effort to make a smooth digital television transition nationwide and Chairman Martin looks forward to continuing to work with Commissioner Copps to successfully bring this change to the Aemrican public."

Copps has frequently said that he thought the FCC needed to pick up the pace on the DTV-transition effort. "Those concerns persist," he added. "The climb before us strikes me as daunting as ever and time is growing short.”

But Copps also said he was looking forward. To that end, he offered up a number of action items to help prevent that disruption, saying that he was confining himself to things the FCC could do, while pointing out that there were also others he would like to see, including the creation of a federal interagency task force.

Copps' proposals”

· 1. Conduct additional field testing.

· 2. Dedicate a special FCC team to the needs of at-risk communities.

· 3. Ramp up the FCC call center.

· 4. Prepare comprehensive DTV contingency plans.

· 5. Create an online DTV consumer forum.

· 6. Educate consumers on DTV troubleshooting, including antenna issues and the need to “rescan” converter boxes and sets.

· 7. Ensure that broadcasters meet their construction deadlines.

· 8. Encourage the rapid deployment of small, battery-powered DTV sets.

· 9. Find a way to broadcast an analog message to consumers following the transition.