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FCC announces national DTV test on May 21, before switch
Submitted by jonathan on Wed, 2009-05-06 10:49
by Amy Schatz, Wall Street Journal
The Federal Communications Commission wants broadcasters to suspend regular programming and instead show a public-service ad about the digital transition for three five-minute periods May 21 as part of an effort to make sure Americans are ready for the switch.
The broadcasters would take the action at 7:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. that day, according to people briefed on the plan. Local broadcasters have voluntarily conducted similar tests across the country but this would be the first national test. The test wouldn't apply to stations which have already switched to digital-only.
"For consumers, it's an opportunity in advance of the transition to get a feel for their level of readiness. For people who think they're ready, it gives them a chance to check," said Rick Kaplan, an FCC spokesman.
The U.S. was originally scheduled to switch to digital-only television Feb. 17, but Congress moved the date back to June 12 on concerns that millions of Americans wouldn't be ready.
The delay frustrated broadcasters, who had spent upward of a year running public-service ads to tell consumers about the switch. About a third of U.S. TV stations have already shut off their older analog signals and now broadcast only in digital.
The Obama administration and Congress agreed to pour $650 million more into a government coupon program in the economic-stimulus legislation. The coupon program helps consumers pay for set-top converter boxes needed to keep older TVs working after the digital switch. Some of that money -- $65 million -- was given to the FCC for consumer programs, including a toll-free call center and in-home installation programs.
The FCC only recently began handing out some of that money in regional contracts to pay for home installation services for consumers having trouble hooking up the converter boxes and walk-in help centers. More contracts are expected to be awarded this week.
Some two million U.S. households are unprepared for the digital transition, according to estimates released Friday by the National Association of Broadcasters. According to a tracking poll by Nielsen Media Research, about 3.5 million households remain unprepared, about half as many as in December.article originally published at Wall Street Journal.