A seamless DTV transition is not only unlikely, it is impossible, acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps told an FCC consumer advisory group Friday, according to a copy of his remarks.
Saying transition preparation looks worse than it did before he had a chance to "look under the hood," Copps said flatly:
"At this point, we will not have-we cannot have-a seamless DTV transition," citing "a patchwork of disjointed efforts" over the past two-plus years.
"There is no way to do in the 26 days the new leadership has had here what we should have been laser-focused on for 26 months," he told a meeting of the FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee in Washington. "That time is lost-and it's lost at a cost. We cannot make it up. There is consumer disruption down the road we've been on. We need to realize this. We need to plan for it. And we need to do whatever we can to minimize it and then to repair it."
While giving a nod to the possibility, now looking more like a probability, that Congress will move the date to June 12 and give him and the FCC another four months, Copps said he had to plan as though Feb. 17 were still the date. "I wish we had more time and additional resources to prepare, and maybe we will get them yet," he said. "Right now we've got a February 17 date and we need to deploy the resources to deal with that. "
He told the committee specifically what the FCC was doing, which included coordinating "more closely" with NTIA and others, trying to maximize the number of stations who can keep an analog signal on for 30 days past whatever date winds up being the "hard" date, improving consumer outreach, focusing the FCC grants on how-to information, focus more on consumer suport, and trying to better pinpoint where viewers will lose historically viewed stations.
Copps emphasized that last effort: "And let's make sure we all understand this: some consumers, through no fault of their own, are going to lose one or more channels as a result of the transition," he said. "They may pick up other channels that they previously couldn't receive or the current ones may come back later as stations deploy Distributed Transmission Systems or make other arrangements, but on February 18, some homes will not pick up all the stations they are receiving now. All the "how to" advice in the world won't help a consumer if the signal doesn't reach them. We have a deep and serious obligation to get this word out, proactively, so consumers know what's happening and understand what options may be available to them."
He called it "mind-boggling" that the FCC did not better understand that potential problem long ago.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had talked about potential viewership losses, particularly after the Wilmington early analog cut-off resulted in signal losses to a number of viewers to the local NBC affiliate there.
But Martin said it would only be a small fraction of TV homes nationwide and that it would primarily be viewers who were getting signals not technically from their market anyway.
That said, the FCC under Martin did have engineers working on the problem and took a couple of steps to try to fill in gaps in coverage, including approving a new regime of transmitters and translators.