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Senator warns of DTV-transition 'crisis'

At the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the DTV transition from analog to digital, a powerful senator warns of a potential crisis.

At a hearing on the impending DTV transition Tuesday, Senator Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Commerce Committee, warned that the loss of analog over-the-air TV reception, occurring just 29 days into a new presidential administration, might spell trouble for a country already beset by the financial crisis.

Will there be a communications crisis when millions of analog TV sets go to snow in February? CNET

"While federal agencies and industry have stepped up their efforts, I continue to be concerned that they are not fully prepared for the flood of coupon requests and calls that we can expect just before and after the transition," said the senator, a Democrat from Hawaii. "As the current administration winds down, both agencies must remain vigilant so that the next administration does not inherit a communications crisis."

Referring to test of the DTV switchover conducted two weeks ago, Inouye wasn't encouraged. "As the recent test in Wilmington, North Carolina, demonstrated, even with a Herculean investment of time and resources that will be impossible to replicate throughout the rest of the country, consumers made thousands of phone calls seeking help with various aspects of the transition. On a national level, this may translate to millions of calls. Unless more is done, February 17, and 18, and 19, will be very long days indeed."

FCC Chairman Dennis Martin, conversely, found some encouraging signs in the recent Wilmington test but agreed with Inouye that additional funding for education about the transition was still needed, calling for another $20 million.

More notes from the hearing include the NTIA's request for additional funding for the DTV converter coupon program given an expected "surge" in coupon requests as the deadline approaches; a finding from the Government Accountability Office that the government hasn't done enough to prevent people from losing TV signals or to plan for the surge; testimony from Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who called the overall effort "outstanding," adding that, "We still had residents who went dark"; and concern from multiple sources that many areas of the country will receive fewer TV stations after the transition than they did before.

What's your take? Is the country facing a massive communications meltdown on transition day, or are the senator's concerns overblown? Any ideas or modest proposals of your own to make the switchover smoother? Let us know in comments.

(Via Broadcasting & Cable)