As the date of the DTV transition deadline hangs in the balance, Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps looks under the hood of the FCC’s DTV apparatus and doesn’t like what he sees; a key congressman says stick with February; and a key consumer advocate says move to June.
In a meeting with the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Board, Copps repeated his oft-state concerns on the in adequate level of preparedness and coordination for the transition, and said, “Unfortunately, things don’t look any better now that I’ve had a chance to look under the hood since becoming Acting Chairman. If anything, they look worse. At this point, we will not have — we cannot have — a seamless DTV transition.
Still, he’s moving ahead as if 2/17/09 will be the date. He looks to improve coordination with NTIA, maximize the number of analog nightlight stations, work harder on consumer outreach, improving consumer support, gaining better coordination among national, regional and local call centers, and focusing on issues caused be contracting or changing broadcast coverage contours.
Cliff Stearns (R-FL), the Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology Committee and the Internet, took to the pages of the Washington Times to state the case for keeping the 2/17/09 deadline. He argued that moving the date will cost broadcasters money on top of what they’ve already spent, it will delay access to spectrum for public safety officials, and will ruin government credibility with citizens. He said the addition of $250M to get the converter box coupon program back on track is all that is needed to avoid a delay.
The Consumers Union, on the other hand, notes that more than 3M people are now on a waiting list for a coupon, and that the people most likely to lose television service as a result of the transition are America’s most vulnerable, nor does CU think February is a good time of the year to be climbing on rooftops to be making changes to an antenna.
RBR/TVBR observation: If the coupon program could have been tweaked by the end of the second week of January, we’d agree with Stearns about sticking to the original deadline. But of course nothing happened. Even if it were tweaked this very afternoon, we doubt NTIA could even stuff all the envelopes on the waiting list, much less get them in the mail in time for the recipients to use them. Not that it matters – Democrats in Washington seemed determined to move the deadline to June, and they hold all the trump cards right now.