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Testing, Testing D...T...V...

In a letter sent Monday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael J. Copps again urged agency Chairman Kevin Martin to consider the notion that conducting some market tests ahead of the February 2009 digital TV deadline might make a world of sense. This is untraveled ground, after all.

“Real-world experience is an extremely important step – although only one of many we must take – in order to minimize consumer disruption on February 17, 2009,” wrote Copps, who has already issued warnings about the transition’s “compressed schedule.” (See I Want My DTV.)

If a battery of full-scale tests aren't feasible, Copps suggested that Martin consider conducting “more limited” field trials ahead of the transition date, suggesting that some homes might even volunteer to be part of the process by switching to digital reception a few months early.

One suggestion: a study of DTV reception. That proposal follows the results from a recent study by Centris that found there to be some “serious gaps” in over-the-air coverage. (See DTV Transition’s ‘Major Glitch’.)

Copps also urged the chairman to consider the testing of digital TV antennas and equipment installations and functionality (to see, for example, whether closed captioning and the V-Chip will work with new digital-to-analog converter boxes); determining whether cable and satellite TV systems can properly pass through the broadcasters’ digital TV signals; and even gauging how consumers react to “the difficulties, costs and benefits” of the transition.

Copps’s message has apparently gotten through. Martin, in a quick response, said he’s in favor of those tests, “including switching a small number of test markets to all-digital” before February 2009.

Martin did not suggest any markets that might be up to this challenge but stressed that he would ask the FCC DTV Task Force to begin the explorations. “Facilitating a smooth and successful transition is a top priority for the Commission,” Martin wrote.

Translated: The burden is on the FCC to do whatever it can in order to avoid the “high potential for a train wreck” Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) warned of last summer. (See Pinching Pennies Over DTV Ed.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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