FCC Proposing Multiple National Soft Tests May 21

Will also team with NAB on DTV transition Webinar

The FCC is proposing that the 1,000-plus TV stations that have not pulled the plug on analog conduct a series of three national soft DTV transition tests May 21, targeted at local news time periods. The FCC will also team with the NAB on a DTV transition Webinar with and for TV stations in the next couple of weeks.

According to an FCC source familiar with the proposal, the commissioners all agreed that it would be a good idea, and staffers started reaching out to trade associations at the end of last week. "Whether stations will go along with this is the interesting part of the story," said the source. "It is not mandatory, but it is an 'earnest request.'"

The FCC is looking for broadcasters to simulute pulling the plug on analog during multiple time slots during the day,
7:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 630 p.m. (which would be in local news time periods on stations with local news). The tests would be five minutes apiece so viewers would be able to check out the status of their TV signal in advance of the June 12 date, when those stations will be pulling the plug for real.

The test would be preceded and followed by a "consistent" national DTV education message that the FCC says it would work with industry to develop. It would also coordinate the test with cable operators and other MVPDs to insure that their customers were not confused about whether or not they needed to take action.

The test would include voice-overs for the blind and coordinate the test with its existing DTV call center so it would be ready for an influx of calls.

The FCC is said to be looking for feedback from the industry within the next couple of days. Broadcasters are currently considering the proposal.

Shermaze Ingram, NAB senior director of media relations for the DTV transition, confirms NAB has seen the recommendation. "NAB has always encouraged stations to conduct soft tests. They have proven to be one of the most effective ways for consumers to determine whether or not they are ready for the switch-over to digital televisopin. We will be coordinating with the FCC on this and other initiatives as we gear up for the final push for the June 12 transition."

One of those initiatives will be working with the FCC on an upcoming DTV transition Webinar with and for stations in the next couple weeks, says Ingram.