FCC Enlists AmeriCorps for DTV Transition

The FCC apparently has decided that it would be helpful to have “boots on the ground” in 49 major metropolitan areas to help residents make the transition to digital broadcasts by the June 12 deadline. According to a press release from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) on Friday, its members “will focus on groups the FCC has targeted for special attention, including low-income individuals, minority communities, non-English speaking consumers, senior citizens, consumers with disabilities and individuals living in rural areas or tribal lands.”

AmeriCorps is a “Peace Corps” type government program that enlists volunteers between 18 and 24 to help with domestic programs. The members of this residential program are based in five campuses spread across the country. Members make a ten-month commitment, and receive training before being sent out in teams of 10 to 12 members to help with programs around the U.S.

Teams of AmeriCorps members will work with FCC area coordinators to “to visit homes where individuals need help to connect their antennas and analog televisions to digital converter boxes, help consumers apply for the $40 converter box coupons, make presentations at community events, serve in walk-in DTV help centers and otherwise spread the word.” According to the press release, Denver is targeted for the initial roll-out of this collaborative effort between the FCC and AmeriCorps, because several of the Denver stations are slated to end their analog broadcasts early, in April.

This is clearly a good idea, but the timing is weak at best. We are now nearly two months past the original deadline, and yet the FCC is only now thinking about using AmeriCorps? The press release indicates that the FCC intends to mobilize other groups, such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs, but why did they wait until 10 weeks before the cut-off to start organizing these groups? And the press release does not indicate how many teams of AmeriCorps members will be involved in these 49 different markets, but how many housecalls can one person make in a day? I expect that 10 would be an ambitious goal. If half of the 4 million unprepared households are in these target markets, and we assume that these groups start today, they would have about 50 days to reach 2 million households. It would take at least 4,000 volunteers to manage that. The program does apparently have about 40,000 members, but presumably most are already committed to other programs.

I hope that this works, and that other state and local community government and private organizations will be able to enlist additional volunteers to help others with the transition, but it remains an enormous task. Waiting until the 11th hour like this does not bode well for success.