Court Denies CBA Petition on Analog Pass-Through

A D.C. district court this week denied a petition from low power broadcasters to block the sale of DTV converter boxes without analog pass-through.

The move effectively ends the Community Broadcasters Association’s efforts go through the courts to force the FCC to comply with the All Channel Receiver Act, which the association said requires all DTV converter boxes on the market to offer analog pass-through that would allow viewers to continue to receive broadcasts from low power and Class A broadcaster after the Feb. 17, 2009 high-power analog shut-off. The lawsuit was filed in late March. While high-power broadcasters will be required to cease analog broadcasters after Feb. 17, 2009, low power broadcasters do not have a deadline to cutover to digital only.

The court’s decision was swift and succinct, denying CBA’s petition without comment. According to CBA Executive Director Amy Brown, the court effectively told the association that it had not exhausted all its efforts

“They didn’t believe there was enough merit for us to take it to the courts,” Brown said. “We still had room to wiggle with the FCC and there was not reason enough for them to make a declaratory ruling.”

Brown said the association will not appeal but will rather concentrate its efforts on forcing the FCC’s hand to comply with the act.

“We need the FCC to act on our petition,” Brown said, adding that “we believe they were waiting for the court ruling.”

In a statement, the CBA noted that in a conference call between state broadcaster associations and the NAB DTV transition task force this week, the NAB acknowledged that currently, no converter boxes that pass through analog signals are available in retail stores. Brown speculated that it was because the boxes “weren’t recognized as needed until after the program was launched.”

In response to the CBA’s statement, an NAB spokeswoman said, “It is our understanding that there are few analog pass-through converter boxes currently available for purchase at brick-and-mortar retailers.”

Brown accused the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the government organization in charge of the DTV converter box program, of ignoring the needs of the low power TV community.

“The NTIA went about it the wrong way,” Brown said. “They implemented their own rules and ignored a whole community that will continue to be analog.”

In addition to concentrating its lobbying efforts on the FCC, Brown said that the association would also urge more funding for low power and Class A broadcasters to transition to digital, asking Congress to increase the number of such stations eligible for funds.

“We’re asking for $150,000 for low power and Class A stations to help them offset their purchase of transmission equipment only,” she said. “We figure $150,000 will get them to transition to digital quickly.”

Despite the petition dismissal, Brown feels that the CBA’s efforts weren’t all for naught, noting that when the original petition was filed in March, only five boxes approved by the FCC had analog pass-through; now there are 14. CBA President Ron Bruno told Congress this week that the NTIA has certified 82 boxes.

“We feel victorious that we made our industry visible in the eyes of Washington,” she said. “We made our industry more aware of the need for pass-through boxes. We hope the FCC agrees with us and mandates that all boxes feature analog pass-through. These are our hopes.”

In a statement, the Consumer Electronics Association, which has vehemently opposed CBA’s efforts, said that the transition to DTV is “on track and is working,” but accused the CBA of trying to stifle progress.

“Every industry and government entity with an interest in DTV is engaged in tireless education efforts, with the notable exception of CBA, which instead devotes its considerable energy to lawsuits, attacks on hard working government employees, and self-serving public relations campaigns,” the spokesman said. “For the small number of Americans who receive television signals from low power stations that refuse to migrate to DTV, the CBA and its member companies have a duty to educate them about their myriad options (including 14 NTIA-certified converter boxes with pass-through capability) to continue watching free, over-the-air television. Now that all three branches of government have rejected CBA’s transparent and self-serving campaign, perhaps CBA will join the hundreds of organizations and thousands of Americans working to ensure the successful transition to DTV.”