03.26.2007 08:00 AM
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Criticism and complexity mire DTV converter plan

Critics say funding of the proposed $1.5 billion government coupon program designed to aid the DTV transition is inadequate and eligibility is confusing. There is general agreement that deployment logistics may be too complex and therefore impossible to carry out.

According to the plan, all U.S. households can apply for two $40 vouchers to buy converter boxes during the first phase of converter box distributions. Later subsidies, however, would be limited to homes receiving only terrestrial broadcasts.

Comments were heard last week from a range of voices at a public hearing held by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the administrator of the program.

Mark Lloyd, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, reminded the NTIA that local broadcasters are the main source of local news and emergency information for many citizens, particularly minorities. "If they don't have access to local broadcasting, many people will be cut off" from their communities, Lloyd said to the "National Journal."

Paula Prahl, director of consumer affairs at Best Buy, said that "the stakes are high for all of us" and that the transition's success would be judged on the ability to provide digital-to-analog converter boxes to consumers who absolutely need them.

Best Buy, she said, will rely on in-store promotion and staff training to ensure that customers comprehend their options.

LG Electronics, a converter box manufacturer, said it expects retailers to charge about $60 for equipment that will enable consumers to receive digital broadcast on their analog televisions.

"Our goal in developing the box was to make it as simple as possible to use," said LG Electronics spokesman John Taylor, whose company will begin selling converters in early 2008.

Anita Wallgren, NTIA's coupon program director, told Reuters the decision about when to start sending out coupons would be made after monitoring the readiness of electronics retailers to process the coupons and to have stock on the shelf.

Over the next few months, the NTIA expects to choose a contractor to run the coupon program. Coupons will be distributed through the mail, not in stores.

The agency plans to hold regular public meetings and is coordinating some efforts with the FCC, which has established the Web site www.dtv.gov to educate consumers about the transition.

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