Saturday, May 23, 2009

Record Number of Consumers Call FCC's Help Line for Assistance in Response to DTV "Soft Test"

Atlanta Media Market Ranked 8th in the Top 10

A coordinated nationwide “soft test” designed to encourage consumers to take immediate action to prepare for the June 12 digital television (DTV) transition prompted a record number of calls to the Federal Communications Commission’s national help line Thursday, including 389 calls from consumers in the Atlanta media market and 1,571 from the State of Georgia.

More than 125 of the nation’s broadcast markets participated in the soft test, including at least one station in each of the top 30 broadcast markets. As a result, the Commission’s toll-free help line, 1-888-CALL-FCC, received 55,374 calls from consumers Thursday, a dramatic increase from the average of 15,000 per day the Commission had been receiving since May 1.

Calls from the Atlanta media market focused primarily on the following:

1. Seeking information about the government’s program providing $40 coupons for the purchase of DTV converter boxes (53% compared to 51% nationally);
2. Expressing concern about general reception issues in their area (15% compared to 15% nationally); and
3. Expressing concern about receiving a specific station (13% compared to 8% nationally).

“This soft test did exactly what it was supposed to do,” said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps. “It was a wake-up call for consumers who are unprepared, alerting them to the fact that they need to take the necessary steps before the June 12 DTV transition.”

The FCC’s help line provides consumers with a wide range of services, including instructions on how to install converter boxes and information on local DTV education events and the availability of in-home installation services. In addition to calling the FCC’s toll-free help line, consumers can find help at the FCC’s web site, http://www.dtv.gov/, and by visiting walk-in help centers being set up across the country or attending a DTV transition event. Information about local events also can be found on the web site.

A “soft test” simulates to a degree what unprepared viewers will experience when the DTV transition occurs. Instead of completely cutting off the analog signal, during a soft test broadcasters interrupt the regular programming of viewers receiving analog signals to warn them the interruption indicates they are not prepared for the transition. Such viewers – other than those connected to a subscription TV service such as cable or satellite (which in some cases still utilize a broadcaster’s analog signal) – must take immediate action to avoid a complete loss of service on June 12. Digital broadcasts are available now and are not interrupted by soft tests.

Nationwide, Nielsen estimates that about 3.3 million households – 2.9 percent of U.S. households with TVs – remained unready for the transition as of May 10. In the few weeks remaining before the transition, the FCC is gearing up its ongoing consumer assistance efforts to ensure consumers are prepared for the end of analog broadcast service for full-power television stations.

The switch to digital will reward most viewers with better sound, a better picture, more channels and more programs and will make room for the future by clearing airwaves for advanced mobile Internet services. The transition will also help save lives by freeing up airwaves for better first-responder radio service.
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