CBA Burned by Promotion of Ineligible Converter Box

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has rained on an effort by the Community Broadcasters Association to promote a particular DTV converter box with the analog pass-through feature that CBA wishes were on every box.

CBA, frightened about losing low-power and translator station viewers because of boxes that don’t pass analog signals through, announced a promotional deal with Microprose Systems, a California company making a box with the pass-through.

The problem, according to NTIA: The Microprose box with the pass-through feature is not yet certified by NTIA as eligible for the coupon program.

“NTIA is discussing the announcement with these organizations,” the agency said in a “comsumer alert” issued Thursday, two days after the CBA/Microprose announcement.

With a major batch of $40 government coupons for the boxes set to expire May 31, the CBA had touted the promotion move as saving the day for low-power stations.

CBA Vice President Greg Herman said the deal began with Microprose approached the CBA, assuring the group its boxes had the NTIA seal of approval. Herman said NTIA officials wouldn’t explain the status of the box’s approval application, although his own tests of the box indicated it performed exactly as it should. He said it’s the low-power viewer who is caught in the middle.

“I cannot tell you how disappointed I am to see the NTIA banging on their stacks of paper and their policies, [instead of working to swiftly certify boxes],” Herman said. “I think they need to consider why the program exists.”

CBA is especially frustrated because of commitments by NTIA that it would fast-track approval of the boxes with the pass-through, which have been hard to find at most retailers.

By Friday (May 23), the Microprose Web site had removed claims that the box was coupon-eligible. The phone number listed for sales reached only an answering machine.

CBA has repeatedly sounded the alarm that most converter boxes lack the analog pass-through feature that allows continued viewing of low-power stations, most of which will continue in analog after their full-power counterparts cease on Feb. 18, 2009. An effort in court to stop the boxes without pass-through failed.

NTIA has certified 82 converter boxes, 14 of which have the pass-through capability.