FCC gets more funding for DTV call center

by Chloe Albanesius, PC Magazine

Are you ready for the DTV transition?

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday took a final look at the status of the DTV switch, nine days before the June 12 deadline for broadcasters to move from analog to digital signals.

"While I have no doubt that there will be some disruption [on June 12, there are] obvious signs of progress," acting FCC chairman Michael Copps said during the commission's monthly meeting.

Next Friday, 974 of the nearly 2,000 stations throughout the country will switch to digital signals, while six stations plan to do so before June 12. The remaining stations have already made the switch.

Of those 1,000 stations, 100 will maintain "analog nightlight" notifications after the switch – messages on analog stations that notify people who have not prepared how they can recover their TV signal. More than half of those nightlights will remain on air for 30 days, while the others will be on for at least two weeks. Those stations will reach 69 percent of TV households in markets that have not yet transitioned, the FCC said.

On the converter box coupon front, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) has distributed 58 million coupons thus far. About 6.5 million of those coupons are still active, with 1.5 million of those residing in households with over-the-air ("bunny ears") TVs.

NTIA, meanwhile, still has enough resources to distribute 4.5 million more coupons before the July 31 deadline.

The most recent data from Nielsen found that 2.7 percent of Americans are totally unprepared for the DTV transition. That is down from 6 percent in December – numbers that prompted Congress to move the DTV switch from Feb. 17 to June 12.

Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, who was just nominated by President Obama to serve another term on the commission, expressed concern about funding for FCC call centers in the weeks after the transition.

An FCC official on the panel told McDowell that the commission would need about $10 million to keep the call center running beyond June 16.

An NTIA official said that the stimulus package approved earlier this year provides $90 million for outreach, money which can be transferred to the FCC. NTIA has $25 million it has not yet provided to the FCC, but put in a request for that transfer on Tuesday. The money will be available as soon as the Secretary of Commerce approves the request.

NTIA did not know how long that will take, but did not expect any burdensome delays.

"It's absolutely vital that we get that money for the call center," McDowell said.

Copps agreed. "It's impossible to precisely predict [the fallout], but I'd rather be over prepared than under-prepared," he said. "We don't need to take that risk. The money has been provided by the Congress. This is a high priority for the utilization of that money."

Meanwhile, the FCC reported that 35 stations will temporarily go dark after June 12, either for financial reasons or because of equipment difficulties.

Of those 35 stations, 18 are shutting down due to money troubles – 17 of which are from one particular company. Another 16 are due to construction issue, and one has a construction permit pending, the FCC said.

In some instances, those channels will be able to broadcast digitally on sub-channels that allow for multiple programming streams.

UPDATE: Commerce Secretary Gary Locke approved the additional funding needed for the DTV call centers on Wednesday afternoon, a Commerce spokeswoman confirmed.

article originally published at PC Magazine.

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