FCC Adds 1,200 More Operators

McDowell tells B&C "so far, so good" on DTV transition

The DTV Countdown: Complete Coverage of the DTV Transition

According to FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, the FCC has added more operators to handle the volume of calls to its DTV helpline (1-888-CALL-FCC). It has 4,000 available on a 24/7 basis, but not all at one time. He says of the transition: "So far, so good."

"I personally tested the call center about an hour and a half ago and my wait time was 20 minutes," he told B&C. "We had another 1,200 operators join the call center at about 4 p.m. so wait times should come down."

He said the FCC expects call volume peaks depending on the time of day and what part of the country is shutting off. "We find that call volume spikes when a particular station announces it is about to shut off analog signals," he says. "Those who shut off in the middle of the day might start to generate more call volume. That should spread out during the course of the day."

While McDowell said the 20-minute wait should come down, he added that he thought that wait was reasonable given the number of people who might be affected, saying it was comparable to call volumes to catalog companies "right before Christmas."

He echoed a point made Thursday by an electronics retailer, who likened it to the day before Christmas in terms of availability of DTV-to-analog converter boxes, which meant they could be had, but might take some hunting.

The $10 million more the FCC got last week for call centers would be spread out over the next week, he said, "to make sure that people this weekend, or tomorrow morning when they wake up or Monday will be able to get hold of someone who can answer their questions effectively."

Like his colleagues, the commissioner has been up since early morning doing interviews and satellite feeds in between checking in with the command center, and plans to continue checking in throughout the night and over the weekend.

By press time (about 4:50 p.m.), the wait time to speak with an operator was down to "greater than five minutes," according to the computer voice.