Commission Dems Say DTV Prep Inadequate Across the Board

Adelstein calls nation "nowhere near" ready for Feb. 17 transition
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Commission Democrats, including the likely acting chairman come next Tuesday, have given Congress a host of reasons to delay the DTV transition date, saying preparation has been inadequate across the board.

They appeared to be supplying ammunition beyond the problem with distributing DTV-to-analog converter box coupons which spurred the Barack Obama transition team to ask Congress to move the date.

In a letter to the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee leadership Friday, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and presumptive acting chair Michael Copps, said that the nation is "nowhere near" ready for the DTV transition only 32 days before the Feb. 17 date.

Both those committees are working on bills to move the date to June 12.

They said the FCC was "scrambling" to catch up after poor planning, but that the late start has led to a rushed effort with "little room for strategic thinking or for anticipating and fixing problems that have arisen."

Those problems they listed as inadequate coordination between government agencies and the public and private sector (echoing concerns they have long expressed), inadequate DTV education, inadequate preparation to handle phone calls from viewers or outreach to help them in person, and inadequate attention to reception and closed-captioning issues.

The pair said those were not the only reasons, citing the converter-box problem, but added that they wanted to raise other issues that "may have not received the same level of attention."

They said if there is a delay, the FCC would need to be flexible and sensitive to community and station needs. They also wanted to make sure that legislators did not blame FCC staffers for the inadequate preparation, saying that "they have done a truly amazing job under exceedingly difficult circumstances. But they cannot do the impossible--and too often that is what has been asked of them."

The Bush administration continued to argue last week that the date did not need to be fixed, that most stations and viewers were ready for the switch, and that fixing the coupon box problem quickly was the answer.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration has consistently argued there was enough money in the converter box program to cover the households that had to get the boxes to continue to view TV, but also gave Congress a heads up last fall that the program could run into an accounting problem that would need to be fixed by Congress.