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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Comm. Adelstein
DTV Transition

In the September 2008 Consensus FCC Reforms and the Communications Agenda for the Next Administration conference sponsored by Tom Hazlett's Information Economy Project, former FCC Chairman Kennard warned that the DTV Transition could be a Hurricane Katrina-like moment for the country if large numbers of households lost TV reception in the confusion.

Comm. Adelstein echoed related concerns and proposed corrective steps in a 12/2/08 talk in Washington. Here are some excerpts:

"Think about it: less than 30 days after the inauguration of President Obama, this nation will experience an unprecedented change in TV. And we are far from prepared to ensure it goes smoothly. The DTV transition isn’t ready for prime time.

The number of over-the-air reliant households remains enormous –an estimated 15 to 20 million. This is more than just for entertainment – this is public safety. Most households rely heavily on analog TV to receive emergency information, including the Emergency Alert System. And, according to reports, only a small percentage of over-the-air households own a digital television.

As the Commission has observed, “the households that principallyrely on OTA broadcasts are the most vulnerable and difficult to reach: almost half have annual incomes of less than $30,000, and two-thirds are headed by someone over 50 years of age or someone for whom English is a second language.”

And, as Nielsen has recently reported, Hispanic TV households remain the slowest group to prepare for the transition.

With most major TV stations ceasing to broadcast in analog all at once on the same day,it’s a huge challenge. Unfortunately, the FCC’s management of the DTV transition continues to underestimate the task.

I testified over a year ago before the Senate Commerce Committee that the Governmental Accountability Office has found that no agency was in charge of the transition, and there was no strategic plan. Here we are, with a precious year passed, and there is still no established structure or strategic plan. Nobody is ultimately responsible for vetting, prioritizing and implementing ideas from both the public and private sectors into a comprehensive and coherent course of action.

We’re sending out weak signals, so the public isn’t getting a clear picture. I believe that only the federal government can play the role of referee to ensure that industry representatives with sometimes conflicting priorities are coordinated to send a clear message that serves all consumers and is not skewed by self-interest. And I hear from many perspectives that our government agencies themselves aren’t coordinated

As GAO testified, the FCC is best positioned to lead this effort, and our talented staff performs well whenever they are given proper guidance. But while the FCC staff has been hard at work, and despite some improvements, the Commission’s overall DTV effort is not a model of effectiveness. Congressional interest and public scrutiny have rightly forced the FCC to expand its overall outreach, enforcement and technical efforts.

But much more is needed.

Because we’ve failed to plan, we’ve been playing catch-up. Rather than being proactive–anticipating problems and concerns, and developing an effective strategy –we’ve been reactive.

For instance, we’ve always known that there would be some loss of signal coverage in certain areas due to unavoidable engineering changes or environmental and zoning issues.

As the Commission has recognized, a portion of the existing analog service areas of some full-power stations will no longer be able to receive service after the station transitions to digital. But the Commission has only recently started to address this very real concern.

As many of you may know, the beach resort community of Wilmington became the “first in flight” to cut off analog TV broadcasting and go digital in September. The common wisdom is that everything went “smoothly,” with a few glitches. The reality is that a minor turbulence in one small town, magnified nationwide, portends a transition not ready to fly.

Rather than giving us a false sense of complacency, Wilmington should force us to jum start the Commission’s lackluster efforts. We could easily find more than 2 million Americans, many of whom are elderly, physically-impaired, non-English speaking, living
in rural areas or with limited incomes, needing help. We expect to see snow in many driveways next winter. But a lot of people are going to be surprised to see snow on their TVs if the FCC doesn’t get its act together.

The issues viewers experienced in Wilmington at first glance seem modest. It was manageable since it amounted to 2,272 calls in the first couple of weeks. But Wilmington is a small town, and this is a big country. A fuller picture emerges when you consider that only 7 percent of Wilmington viewers receive their TV over the air, versus 12 percentnationwide. And Wilmington is flat as a board, in contrast to the hills, valleys, waterways and buildings that impact broadcasting which are found in so many parts of

While in Wilmington only 14,000 households rely exclusivelyon over-the-air TV reception, 13.6 million do so nationwide. That means we should expect calls from at least 2.2 million households nationwide seeking help in the first days after the national transition deadline. And that’s the optimistic scenario.

In the months before this test, the FCC probably spent more resources in Wilmington than in the rest of the country combined. For months, at least five high-ranking staffers were on the ground in every county, at every blueberry festival. We even paid firefighters to go into homes to help those who needed it. If today we shut down the FCC and sent every employee across the country, it wouldn’t touch the impact we had in Wilmington. And yet, even after all of that, we got thousands of calls."
Comm. Adelstein went on to outline a six part proposal for action:
  1. We need to assemble and train teams of DTV assistance workers to go into every market, city and town in the U.S. to ensure that ever community get a baseline level of organizational and resource support.
  2. We need to facilitate a viral campaign in coordination with congressional and governmental offices and community organizations to encourage tech savvy individuals to assist family members, friends, and neighbors with converter box installation.
  3. We need to encourage elected officials, from Governors to Mayors and beyond, to get involved in making this happen on the ground.
  4. We need to increase our phone bank capacity to handle 2 million phone calls in the days immediately following February 17.
  5. We need to move much faster to finalize grants to community organizations and event planners to assist with the transition effort.
  6. We should ask our telco, cable and satellite partners to get involved on a local level.

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