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FCC improves DTV Web site

In an attempt to provide better and more user-friendly information about the DTV transition, the FCC has revised its Web site. But is it too little too late?

The Federal Communications Commission has revamped its DTV transition Web site in the hopes it can help more consumers prepare for the transition to digital television.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein unveiled the new site Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters' conference in Las Vegas. The primary purpose of the redesigned site was to make it more "consumer friendly." For example, the site includes a tool to search for local retailers selling converter boxes. It also has a quick tutorial on installing converter boxes and provides shopping information about the different products. And it provides tips for improving reception or troubleshooting reception issues.

Adelstein, who is expected to leave the commission soon for a post at the Department of Agriculture, has long supported the idea of a more coordinated education effort around the DTV transition.

Congress mandated that TV broadcasters cut off their analog signals and transmit only in digital to conserve valuable airwaves. And in 2005 it set the date of February 17, 2009, as the deadline for the transition. Over the next four years, the FCC, broadcasters and TV manufacturers were expected to prepare for the transition and educate the public.

But as the deadline approached, TV stations and broadcasters were ready for the transition, but consumers were not. In early February, lawmakers were concerned that some 20 million people, most of whom were poor, elderly, and living in rural parts of the country, were not prepared for the transition. And to make matters worse, the government had also run out of its $40 coupons it was issuing to help defray the cost of the converter boxes necessary to allow older TVs to get digital signals. There had also been reports that many consumers, who had already gotten converter boxes, were not able to connect them properly to their TVs.

Ultimately, Congress voted to delay the deadline for the DTV transition from February 17 to June 12. The delay and the general unreadiness of the public for this transition have resulted in a lot of finger pointing among politicians and public interest groups. And the FCC has been sharply criticized for dropping the ball in terms of educating the public about the transition. The new Web site is an attempt to help provide more user-friendly information.

Hopefully, this latest effort will help get consumers ready for the transition. But recent reports suggest there are still many people not ready for the transition and time is running out. According to Nielsen, as of April 12, 3.6 million TV households are "completely unready" for the DTV transition on June 12. This is an improvement of 200,000 households over the past two weeks, when Nielsen reported that 3.8 million American households were unready. But as the deadline gets closer, time is running out and there are still millions of consumers unready.

But the NAB says that Nielsen's numbers are greatly exaggerated. And the association believes that the actual number of those not ready is much lower.