Americans have survived the transition to digital television without incident.
The sky did not fall and there was no major shortage of digital converter boxes Friday when full-power broadcasters across the nation turned off their analog TV signals and started broadcasting only in digital. Calls to broadcasters and the Federal Communications Commission have been heavy the past few days, but officials say that the volume is within what the agency had expected.
"The digital TV transition is looking more like Y2K than the Bay of Pigs," Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said during a press conference on Saturday.
While the agency is quick to say that there is still work to be done in helping stragglers get over the air signals, it's clear commissioners were relieved and pleased with how smoothly the transition of some 971 stations to all digital broadcast went throughout the country on Friday.
Officials said Saturday that more than 317,000 consumer calls were made to the FCC on Friday, the highest number of calls the agency has ever had in one day. But the agency was prepared with call centers staffed 24 hours a day with a total of 4,000 live operators to answer questions. Even though call wait times were higher during peak periods, on average consumers had to wait less than five minutes for their call to be answered.
The largest volume of calls came from broadcast markets serving major cities, most notably Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
The FCC's Web site also got a lot of activity on Friday with more than 3.1 million page views on the www.dtv,gov site. This is more page views than the site had in all of May.
About 30 percent of the calls to the FCC call centers concerned the operation of digital boxes, the agency said. And most of those calls were resolved were instructed to "re-scan" converter boxes in order to receive the digital channels that had moved to new frequencies. More than 20 percent of the calls handled by live agents dealt with reception issues.
FCC officials said that it was hard to say exactly how many people were not prepared when the switch happened and how many are still without over-the-air broadcast TV. But according to the latest Nielsen survey conducted before the June 12 deadline, less than 3 million households across the nation were unprepared. This figure was at least half of what it had been in February.
Retailers across the country were well-stocked with digital converter boxes for last-minute shoppers, which alleviated any concerns government officials had about equipment shortages. But the agency noted that in some locations antennas were in short supply. The FCC is suggesting that consumers look online if they are unable to get an antenna from a local retailer this weekend.
Even though there was no major catastrophe or mass out-cry from the public over the switch to digital TV, acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said the agency's work is still not complete. He said that the FCC is continuing its grassroots efforts to ensure consumers, who still aren't getting over the air TV are not left behind. He used a baseball analogy to describe where he feels the agency is right now in the transition.
"We are safe on third right now," he said. "But I'm not going to close the books on the transition or declare a home run until we solve all the consumer problems."
Still, he also pointed out that there are likely far fewer unprepared viewers now than there would have been had broadcasters switched to digital on the original February 17 deadline. Fearing that consumers were not ready for the transition early this year, Congress voted to delay the mandated transition to June 12.
Since then FCC has thrown its efforts into overdrive, working with volunteers from the public and private sector to educate consumers and provide out reach programs to install digital converter boxes for consumers.
Copps expressed his pride for the efforts of his staff and the massive coordination among the different groups working to make the DTV transition smooth.
"We turned this little regulatory agency on the Potomac into a real grass roots organization," he said.
Copps and the other FCC commissioners said that "search and rescue" efforts will continue to find and help individuals who have been left behind in this transition. FCC volunteers along with volunteers from other groups, such as AmeriCorps, are on the ground manning walk-in centers where people still needing help can go to get help. These folks are also going to door-to-door in at-risk communities to make sure that people are able to get over-the-air TV.
Broadcasters will also continue to turn up the power on their transmitters, which could help some consumers receive TV signals that they might not have been able to get previously.