Earlier this month, the FCC published the rules for DTV help centers. Most TVbroadcasters are required by the “DTV Delay Act” to create walk-in help centers for their markets. These new rules require that the centers be open at least from 4 to 8 PM (local) on Fridays, and 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. For the two weeks before the June 12 cut-off date for analog broadcasts, as well as an additional week following the cut-off, the centers must be open every day from 12 PM to 8 PM.
In addition the centers are required to have an analog television, a converter box, an antenna, and a VCR, as well as someone available to demonstrate how to connect these devices correctly. There must also be handouts available that explain the digital transition and related issues such as possible reception problems with digital signals. The centers must also have DVD players with a screen that can be used to play educational videos about the digital transition.
The centers must also have a high-speed Internet connection and a computer available to consumers so that they can apply online for converter box rebate coupons.
These are all great ideas, and probably it makes sense that they should be required by law to make sure that they happen (though it does appear to be yet another unfunded federal mandate). What doesn’t make sense to me is that the FCC waited to publish these requirements until two months after the original cut-off date, and just two months before the delayed cut-off. The requirement for help centers should have been part of the original transition planning, and these requirements should have been developed a year ago at the latest.
By the way, the latest numbers from Nielsen from the second week of April indicate that some 3.8 million U.S. households still are totally unprepared for the transition. That is a significant improvement over the 6.5 million unprepared in January of this year, but is still a large number. But the transition is not going smoothly, even for some of those that Nielsen would count as at least partially prepared. Three of Denver’s TV stations switched over on April 16, and according to a report by the Denver Post, the digital TV regional outreach coordinator for the FCC was quoted as saying “We’ve gotten a lot more calls than we expected.” And the Americorps voice message mailbox was full by noon on the day of the change-over.
June 12 is not looking too good at this point.