With 350 days to go to the DTV transition, the public was treated to the spectacle of a rare exchange of public memos between Commissioner Copps (Acrobat) and Chairman Martin (Acrobat) about how to manage the end game of the transition.
Comm Copps wrote,
My strong first preference, as we have discussed, is to actually switch a small number of markets to all-digital service before the national transition date. 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.He goes on to propose several tests in the next few months,
DTV reception. There has been some controversy recently about whether consumers could lose access to certain channels they currently receive when the digital switch-over occurs. Although one study purported to demonstrate that reception of digital signals falls off sharply after 35 miles, the broadcast industry countered that the findings were not based on real-world signal strength measurements and made incorrect assumptions about the types of antennas consumers will use. The best way to resolve this issue is with real-world tests in markets with various topographies, at various distances, and with various home antenna options.Perhpas Comm. Copps read the 2/11/08 New York Times article that quoted Dr. Oded Bendov, one of the TV industry's technical leaders (whom I happen to disagree with on white space device policy) saying,
Antennas. In a related issue, there is a lack of certainty regarding the number of consumers who will need new antennas in order to transition to digital service. Reports from the UK indicate that approximately ten percent of households have needed a new antenna. Given our different DTV transmission standard and topography, we cannot assume a similar experience here.
Cable/satellite coordination. We can and should assess whether cable and satellite systems will be adequately prepared to receive and pass through broadcasters’ digital signals in February 2009.
DTV equipment installation. The UK has a program to provide eligible households—including the elderly and certain people with disabilities—with practical assistance in converting to digital. This could include help installing new equipment and learning how to use it. The US, by contrast, has no formal in-home assistance plan. We can and should explore issues such as: (1) difficulties consumers have installing DTV converter boxes and connecting peripheral equipment (e.g., VCRs); (2) particular difficulties faced by certain communities, such as the elderly, people with disabilities, and non-English speaking consumers; and (3) difficulties consumers have in using the new equipment, including analog pass-through functionality.
DTV equipment functionality. We can and should assess whether functionalities such as closed captioning and V-Chip work with converter boxes and other DTV equipment.
Consumer reactions. After the field testing is complete in a particular household, we can and should assess the consumer’s views of the difficulties, costs and benefits of the DTV transition.
“For the people with rabbit-ear antennas, I would say at least 50 percent won’t get the channels they were getting ... I would say a lot of people are going to be very unhappy.”The article went on to say,
"Centris also estimated that of the 117 million TVs not connected to cable or satellite, up to 80 percent have set-top rabbit-ear antennas that may not be able to pull in an adequate digital signal. Many of those sets will require a better antenna or a cable or satellite connection to do so."Chairman Martin answered Comm Copps,
"I fully share your desire that we do everything we can to best prepare consumers for the upcoming transition. I look forward to continuing our dialog on these issues."Meanwhile the FCC/NTIA website wars continue with inconsistent consumer information. More on that later. The red box on the top of this page is an actual link on the FCC website to the NTIA converter box program for consumers using the same logo NTIA uses -- guess where it is on the FCC website for consumers to find?