D2A Converters Coming to a Retailer Near You

December 11, 2007
More than 100 retailers have been certified to sell government-subsidized digital-to-analog converter boxes, and five such devices have been certified, according to a federal official.

Meredith Baker, acting assistant secretary and acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said Tuesday the converter box program is on schedule.

The program was mandated by Congress a year ago when it ordered broadcasters to end analog transmissions Feb. 17, 2009. The converter boxes will allow analog televisions to decode and display digital signals. Congress agreed to subsidize up to two boxes per household at $40 each, to be distributed in the form of coupons between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009.

The NTIA was charged with figuring out the rest, including how to qualify retailers and converter boxes. The households requesting the coupons are supposed to certify themselves.

Baker said Best Buy, Circuit City, Kmart, RadioShack, Sam’s Club, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart are among more than 100 retailers representing 14,000 stores that have been certified to redeem the coupons.

Five converters have passed muster with FCC engineers -- two from DigitalStream and one each from Magnavox, Philco and Zenith. Not all of them pass through analog signals, which could be a concern for low-power TV stations, which are not included in the digital transition.

“Our rules permit low-power pass-through but don’t require it. It reduces signal level and increases cost to the consumer,” Baker said.

Prices for the units range from $59.99 to $69.99, she said during a press conference that coincided with the release of a report from the Government Accountability Office that was critical of the NTIA’s progress.

The report, requested by House Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts, said that while the NTIA, the FCC and other agencies have launched initiatives, there is no comprehensive plan, milestones, deadlines or other ways to measure the progress, and therefore the readiness, of the program.

“The GAO contends that simply providing a laundry list of completed regulatory tasks is not the same thing as having a comprehensive plan,” Markey said in a statement. “I agree. The GAO is an arm of the U.S. Congress and I expect the FCC and NTIA to take the its recommendations with the utmost seriousness. The good news is that it is not yet too late to take concrete and corrective action along the lines recommended.”

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