Copps wants DTV test markets; Education program adopted


FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is pressing Chairman Kevin Martin to have a DTV test-run to get some real-world experience before next February’s nationwide digital transition. Copps suggests that a few markets be selected to go all-digital early and have stations shut off their analog signals so the FCC and the television industry can see what the reaction is from consumers.
“Broadway shows open on the road to work out the kinks before opening night.  The DTV transition deserves no less.  Other countries are transitioning over time, with phased schedules.  The United Kingdom, again as we have discussed, is transitioning on a regional basis between 2007 and 2012, learning at every step along the way and making necessary adjustments.  Our single transition date does not afford us the luxury of a built-in learning curve.  We have one chance to get this right—one opening night,” Copps said in a letter to Martin. He also proposed a number of smaller scale field tests of DTV reception and consumer attitudes.
The Chairman thinks his colleague may be onto something. “I believe that your have presented some interesting ideas that I am in favor of pursuing, including switching a small number of text markets to all-digital service before February 17, 2009,” Martin wrote back.

Meanwhile, the FCC yesterday released the DTV Consumer Education Order requiring television broadcasters, Multi-Channel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs), telecommunications carriers, retailers, and manufacturers to promote awareness of the nation’s transition to digital television. For over-the-air broadcasters, the order requires that they provide on-air information to their viewers about the DTV transition, and have the flexibility to comply with one of three alternative sets of rules to best serve their widely divergent communities. Broadcasters must report these efforts, on a quarterly basis, to the Commission and the public.

"We salute today’s FCC action, which provides broadcasters with the necessary flexibility to ensure that no American loses access to television service due to lack of education. Through public service announcements, TV crawls, news programs and innovative marketing techniques, broadcasters are committed to presenting more than $1 billion in messaging that is educational, accurate and actionable,” said NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton. "At stake is the very future of broadcast television, and there should be no mistaking the commitment of local stations and our network partners as leaders in this unprecedented educational effort to conclude a successful DTV transition."

RBR/TVBR observation: Will it play in Peoria? Not a bad idea to find out. It shouldn’t be that hard to identify a handful of smaller markets where every single station is already fully digital and ready to pull the analog plug. Then get NTIA to push its coupons and make sure local retailers have plenty of converter boxes on their shelves. Broadcasters and local officials should be able to make it a well publicized event. We’re hoping that the DTV transition will turn out to be as deadly dull as Y2K turned out to be, but a test run would make it possible to identify unexpected problems.