Converter Box Program Looks at Changes for Nursing Homes, P.O. Boxes

Responding to concerns of Congress and others, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is considering rule changes to help get the $40 coupons for DTV converter boxes to residents of nursing homes and those who use post office boxes.

Acting NTIA chief Meredith Attwell Baker told the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday that the NTIA was working on a rulemaking proposal on those issues, and it would be out for public comment soon. Current coupon rules require physical home addresses, not P.O. boxes, and to treat nursing and group homes as a single household, instead of allowing each resident up to two coupons.

Baker again gave positive reviews of the coupon program. More than 10 million coupons have been requested and more than 260,000 have been redeemed. More data will be available after the first round of coupons expire May 28.

She also said more than 60 boxes have been certified for the program, eight of which have the analog pass-through feature needed to easily continue to pick up analog stations that will continue broadcasting after full-power analog transmissions cease on Feb. 18, 2009. Several more boxes with the analog pass-through are in an expedited process for approval, she said.

Asked why boxes were not required to have the analog pass-through, Baker said the features reduce the strength of digital signals and add to the cost of the boxes, so pass-through is permitted, but not required, on the coupon-eligible boxes.

The comments came as senators voiced concerns about the transition but with less of the sense of crisis that characterized some earlier hearings. FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin told the panel that while more and more people are aware of the transition, many still don’t know exactly how they’ll deal with it.

“Too many Americans remain confused about what they should do in the digital transition,” he said.

He said notices about DTV were heading to post offices across the country, and FCC staff had reached out to mayors of cities with high-over-the-air viewing rates to help them get DTV materials and strategies.

Martin also said he has “given some thought” to the idea of test markets for the transition, an idea floated by Democratic Commissioner Michael J. Copps.