FCC Urges Analog Bypass for Set-Top Boxes

At CES, I heard that the FCC is urging at least one provider of the NTIA satellite converter boxes to add an analog bypass to the units so that users will be able to receive those stations remaining analog after Feb. 17, 2009. Some of the coupon-eligible boxes already have the analog override feature.

That manufacturer is planning to add this capability to future shipments of converters, but one other NTIA-certified set-top box manufacturer I spoke with was surprised to hear that there would be analog TV stations on the air after Feb. 17, 2009.

As the FCC Third Periodic Review Order made clear, there won't be any full power analog stations on the air on Feb. 18, 2009, unless they are willing to chance large fines for unlicensed operation. However, many—perhaps most—low-power TV (LPTV), Class A TV stations (LPTV stations operating with additional responsibilities and regulations) and TV translators will still be broadcasting in analog. While many of these stations filed for and received digital companion channels, they have until the construction permit expiration date to build digital stations. Other LPTV, Class A and TV translator licensees plan to flash-cut on their existing channel at some future date. The FCC has not set a DTV deadline for these stations and the National Translator Association has recommended the FCC not set a hard date, but rather allow these stations to switch off their analog transmitter when they feel the market is ready for it.

Technical people weren't available at some of the booths with DTV converter boxes, but there was some good news for LPTV and similar stations staying analog. The manufacturer that was surprised with the news about analog stations being on the air after Feb. 17, 2009 indicated they would be looking into adding this feature. Samsung is one manufacturer that included it in their set-top box from the start. However, for others, it looks as if consumers may not see converter boxes with analog bypass until at least the next converter manufacturing cycle. With the huge interest in NTIA coupons, consumers may not have to wait too long!