McSlarrow Praises FCC, Broadcasters

Also discussed the DTV transition call center effort

What a difference an acting chairman makes.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow opened his remarks at an FCC public meeting on the DTV transition by giving a shout-out to acting Chairman Michael Copps' "extraordinary leadership," then added praise for the other two commissioners by extension, saying that the teamwork and collegiality they had all shown had made a "real impact" on communications stakeholders.

That was in contrast to the impact of the commission on cable under Copps' predecessor Kevin Martin, whose apparent anti-cable agenda--Martin billed it as fair and pro-consumer--had once prompted McSlarrow to liken it to a vendetta.

McSlarrow made brief remarks at the session about a transition that is primarily broadcasters' issue.

He said that while cable and broadcast clearly disagreed on a number of issues, they had worked well together to try to make the transition work. In addition to cable's major role in coordinating the DTV call center effort, the two industries have been working together for a year or two with coordinating the "hand-off" of the new digital signals to cable head-ends.

McSlarrow praised Association for Maximum Service Television President David Donovan for "extraordinary" work on the "nitty gritty engineering and technical work" with local cable operators.

On the call center effort, McSlarrow pointed out that the government had not made it easy, saying the date had been whipsawed around from a) Feb. 17 to b) June 12 to c) everything in between to the final answer d) all of the above.

McSlarrow seconded suggestions from the FCC's point person, Andrew Martin, but added an additional concern over the potential volume of Spanish speakers.

He pointed out that while only 2% of the viewers to stations that pulled the plug Feb. 17 were Spanish speaking, 13% of the calls were from Spanish speakers. McSlarrow said that was not a problem since there was more built-in capacity for that date than was needed. But he said that for the next wave, perhaps 30% of the call center operators might need to be able to speak Spanish.

MCSlarrow said March 17 would be an important date for the call center operation. That is the date by which stations must tell the FCC when they plan to pull the plug, on June 12, or sometime before, though if the FCC has its way, not before April 16. That will provide a better read on when the peaks for call volume might be in addition to June 12.

The White House approached the cable industry to help with the call centers given the industry's years of experience in that area.