FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced that he will be leaving the Commission on Tuesday as the new President is inaugurated, and thus will not be present at the FCC to set any last minute policy for the DTV transition. In fact, if Martin had decided to stay for the end of the transition, he might well have had to stick around for a while, as there are bills making their way through Congress to delay the February 17 deadline for the transition to digital television. Senator Rockefeller has introduced a bill that would extend the deadline to June 12, which Senate Republicans blocked last week, though it will reportedly be reintroduced this week. At the same time, the three remaining Commissioners have all released letters that indicate that there are significant transition problems that need to be resolved before the transition deadline. While there are those who wonder if the delay will really solve the problems that may exist – the movement is in the direction of a delay.
The letters from the Commissioners are most interesting. First came a letter from Commissioner McDowell, not directed to Congress, but instead to Chairman Martin, publicly asking for information about the FCC’s DTV phone bank to answer questions from consumers about the transition. According to the McDowell letter, he was unable to get information about the status of upgrades to the system to handle the expected influx of calls at the end of the transition. McDowell also complained about calls that were not answered at all, or which had long wait times, when consumers called – wait times that often resulted in connections with a voicemail system. And he raised questions about the failure of the phonebank to be open on weekends. It has now been announced that IBM has been hired to man the phonebank, perhaps answering some of the questions Commissioner McDowell raised in his letter.