Coalition Urges NTIA to Speed the Plow on Converters

Time's a wastin' to let people know their analog TVs are edging toward extinction, a group of companies and lobbies told the National Telecommunications and Information Administration this week.

In a letter addressed to Acting Assistant Secretary John Kneuer, the group stated "we must begin promptly and comprehensively to reach the American consumers with concise, coordinated, simple to understand information -- involving all facets of private and public stakeholders in such an effort."

When Congress passed the Feb. 17, 2009 analog deadline legislation earlier this year, it also charged the NTIA with developing and administering a program to distribute $40 coupons for digital-to-analog converter boxes. The D2A boxes will allow legacy analog sets to pick up digital signals once analog transmitters are powered down. Congress earmarked $1.5 billion for the boxes, $5 million of which was designated for public education. Echoing the sentiments of FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, the letter's authors are underwhelmed by the sum.

"It is important to point out that the cost of the successful administration of this program will far exceed the $5 million appropriated for consumer education in order to provide citizens with the necessary and coordinated information to allow them to meet the day of transition without any disruption of their over-the-air television service," the letter stated.

In March, Adelstein noted that Berlin alone spent $1 million educating its citizens about the analog shutdown there in August 2003. As previously reported in TV Technology, The $1 million in Berlin translated to around $6.25 for each of the 160,000 homes that relied exclusively on over-the-air television. By comparison, $5 million would not cover the cost of regular postage stamps to mail a letter to each of the roughly 15 million U.S. homes that rely on over-the-air TV.

The group said it stands ready to help, and suggested allowing consumers to buy equipment online with special debit cards "with unique identification numbers that can be tracked to ensure protections against fraud.

"In this regard, while the [law] requires that the vouchers be mailed to requesting households, nothing in [it] requires that the vouchers be printed on paper. In fact, the use of electronic debit-cards would reduce fraud and would recognize the reality of online consumer purchasing behavior."

The letter was signed by the following parties:
• Alliance for Public Technology
• Alliance for Rural Television
• American Library Association
• Association of Public Television Stations
• Big Idea Inc.
• Consumer Electronics Association
• Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition
• Entravision Communications Corp.
• Harris Corp.
• ION Media Networks
• LG Electronics USA Inc.
• National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations
• National Association of Broadcasters
• National Consumers League
• Public Broadcasting Service
• Scholastic Inc.
• Women Involved in Farm Economics