FCC Spreads The Word On Digital TV Switchover

The Federal Communications Commission hits the road this week. Regulators are on a national tour to try to prepare communities for the upcoming switch from analog to digital television.

The change takes place in February. Viewers with cable or satellite TV won't notice a difference, but people who watch for free will need a converter box — or they'll find themselves staring at a blank screen.

A recent Nielsen survey found 13 million households aren't ready for the transition.

The FCC calls its tour of town hall meetings unprecedented, but Consumers Union analyst Joel Kelsey is not impressed.

"The clock is ticking," he says. "We had hoped that this had started earlier, and we'd like to see a similar effort in all 210 media markets."

Instead of every market, the FCC road show is stopping in 80, including the least-prepared cities, like Portland, Ore., Cincinnati and St. Louis.

The FCC is also reaching out to minority groups. The National Council of La Raza's Lisa Navarrete acknowledges Hispanics are the least aware and the least prepared.

"I still think that the ramp-up for getting information out to the Latino community has not been as quick as we would have liked, and I think that information is still not getting out there despite some very valiant efforts by Univision and others to get the word out," she says.

The FCC said in a news release it recognizes the challenges of reaching analog viewers and believes this coast-to-coast tour will boost awareness before the digital transition, less than six months away.

Welch reports from member station WHQR in Wilmington, N.C.

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