The digital television switchover may rival the current financial markets crisis weighing on Americans' minds, Sen. Daniel Inouye warned Tuesday.
"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," Inouye said at an oversight hearing on the DTV transition. "February 17 will be the 29th day of the next administration. The DTV transition has the potential to cause serious disruption not just to consumers, but to a new president who will just be getting his feet wet. Neither a President Obama nor a President McCain should have to deal with a failed transition, so soon after coming into office."
As the current Bush administration winds down, both the National Telecommunications and Information Association -- which is overseeing the DTV education and coupon program effort -- and the Federal Communications Commission must "remain vigilant," he said, so that the next administration does not inherit a "communications crisis. We have too many crises facing us at the moment."
Inouye, D-Hawaii, is chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin testified that he was encouraged by the digital switchover conducted two weeks ago in Wilmington, N.C., the nation's official test market -- and previously reported by Miller-McCune.com --but agreed with Inouye that more funding to educate viewers about the transition was needed: about $20 million worth.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo called the overall effort "outstanding," but "we still had residents who went dark."
Local municipalities needed to be ready to respond to seniors who had trouble hooking up their digital-to-analog converter boxes or scanning channels, Saffo said.
The NTIA has requested more money for its coupon program due to an expected "surge" in demand -- and for running out of coupons as too many people who signed up in areas who didn't actually need them because they are hooked up to cable or satellite TV.