The FCC held its last meeting among the current five commissioners by teleconference Tuesday. That was after a Dec. 18 public meeting was cancelled in the wake of a warning from legislators.
There were no agenda items, with much of the time spent praising exiting Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate for her three-year tenure.
But the commissioners also took the opportunity to briefly talk about the new DTV coverage maps the FCC released last week to help broadcatsers identify potential gaps in DTV signal coverage.
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said he hoped the FCC would get grants out to community groups to help with the DTV transition. He was speaking from Phoenix, where he was talking about the transition. He said they signed up 300 people for DTV converter boxes while he was there, with only six weeks to go.
"I am afraid the DTV transition isn't ready for prime time yet," he said. "People need to get moving if they aren't going to lose a signal or pay full price for a converter box. I am afraid it is going to be messy unless something dramatic is done."
He also put in a plug for soft analog cut-off tests, saying he understood there was some problem with the FCC's call center during the crash of calls for the national Dec. 17 test. "If it can't handle the soft test, it can't handle the real thing, that's for sure."
Commissioner Michael Copps said he was also glad to have the coverage maps, saying it would help broadcasters and others understand what was going to happen to their signals.
Commissioner Robert McDowell praised Chairman Kevin Martin for releasing the maps, saying there would be signal loss and gain and that the change-over would be messy but manageable as "we are entering the late fourth quarter of that game...We don't havd much time to drag consumers over the goal line."
He echoed Martin's observation that the Tate farewell was the sad part of the meeting, calling her "the rose among the four thorns" at the FCC and a civilizing influence with her her intelligence and integrity.
Tate was an advocate of combating childhood obesity and a constant voice for concensus and concilliation. McDowell gave her credit for finding middle ground on a number of issues.
Tate thanked her colleagues in turn for their service and their friendship that "would survive any term limits."
She said she hoped the FCC would collaborate more closely with other agencies on consumer protection. She said she preferred to see the FCC's failures as free opportunities to reach reasoned decisions.
Tate also thanked Chairman Martin for releasing the coverage maps, and said she thought the commissioners' personal DTV tours had helped bring that about.
She praised the incoming administration's concentration on broadband rollout, but also talked about the real and present danger to children from the Internet.
Tate also gave a shout-out to the FCC press corp., saying she would now look forward to reading their stories as a citizen.
She said she had tried to be a voice for children and families, and, like Abraham Lincoln, "to do her best each and every day."
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.