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Copps 'Really Worried' About Digital Transition

"We'll all be out here trying to make a few bucks out of the slot machines if this thing goes south." That was the warning to broadcasters on the digital transition from FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who told a breakfast crowd at the National Association of Broadcasters that he was "really worried" about the transition.

He said he shared the concerns of Hill Democrat John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, that it could be a fine mess if viewers aren't sufficiently educated about the February 2009 switchover to DTV, but he also said he was not ready to start pushing back the Feb.17, 2009 hard date. "We ought to be conducting our policy on the presumption that date is gong to stick," he said.

Copps contrasted what he said was the "stealth process" of the DTV transition to the Y2K effort when he was at the Commerce Department, pointing out they were in almost constant meetings. He said that maybe the Y2K was overblown, or, then again, perhaps all that attention and activity was one of the reasons Y2K came and went without major incident.

He pointed to the UK DTV transition effort, which he said included a $400 million investment to contact viewers personally at least twice for a country a fifth the size of the U.S., again contrasting that with the $5 million the National Telecommunications & Information Association has been given to promote the transition.

Even as Copps was speaking, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was back in Washington pitching the FCC's budget to a House Appropriations subcommittee, where he was asking for more money for DTV education.

Commissioner Deborah Tate, who shared the stage with Copps and NAB President David Rehr, said she hoped in the end the transition would be the same nonevent as Y2K, but also said she was glad "we don't have the job of getting out converter boxes. That job falls to NITA, though it is subcontracting out much of the work.