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FCC Says Some ‘Disruption’ Will Occur With DTV Transition

3 Jun, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

With the end of full-power analog broadcasting in America just days away, the head of the Federal Communications Commission June 3 said there will be “disruption” June 12 when all TV stations are required to broadcast digitally.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that 35 of the roughly 1,800 TV stations in the nation will go dark that day, either because they can’t currently afford the technology required to broadcast digitally or because they are experiencing technical difficulties. An estimated 900 stations will switch to digital June 12, while the rest are already broadcasting digitally.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is running a federally funded $44 million grant program to assist low-power TV stations in the transition. The NTIA has also been overseeing a $40 consumer coupon program, helping consumers who don’t have a television with a digital tuner, or who rely on over-the-air broadcasts, buy a digital converter box.

“Time is running out. Americans who rely on free television who aren’t prepared for the transition should apply for a coupon today if they need help purchasing a converter box, so they can continue receiving the television programming they count on,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said the digital transition will create some problems but not nearly as many as the government would have encountered if the transition had happened in February. President Obama on Feb. 11 signed a bill that delayed the transition to June 12.

“Had we flipped the switch then, we would have faced a consumer debacle that would have made New Coke look like a stroke of marketing genius,” he said. “There was no way we could accomplish in four short months what should have been done over the past four years.”

Nielsen data as of June 2 estimates that 2.7%, or 3.1 million homes nationwide, are unprepared for the digital transition. The FCC is operating a call center, offering in-home assistance for more than 200,000 homes nationwide via the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and deploying 250 staffers to public events and digital TV clinics across the nation.

“We won’t have the perfect number of call center agents on duty or precisely the right number of boots on the ground in precisely the right places,” Copps said. “[But] in the end we will get through this.”

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