Feds: LPTV-Friendly Boxes Starting to Appear

Coupon-eligible DTV converter boxes that easily pass through analog signals are starting to become available, officials from the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Thursday.

Low-power broadcasters have been among those concerned that most of the boxes available with the $40 NTIA coupons lack the pass-through feature and would, in effect, block low-power stations that will continue broadcasting in analog after February 2009. Many consumers have reported difficulties in locating boxes with the analog pass-through in stores.

At an FCC workshop on the boxes attended by a few dozen people, Alan Stillwell of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology said most manufacturers only fully realized the demand for the pass-through feature around December 2007, and that stock has begun hitting store shelves.

“Just this month, and the end of last month, the boxes have begun coming out,” said Stillwell.

Of the 96 converter boxes certified by NTIA for certification in the coupon program, 25 have the analog pass-through feature. Among the certified boxes, 47 are actually available to consumers—eight with the pass-through.

“I’m confident that there are boxes with the analog pass-through available,” said Anita Wallgren, director of the NTIA coupon program. “People may need to look for them. ... I think customers have found the online services are a better place to go for the analog pass-through, but that may change here.”

Through a sign-language interpreter, one participant in the workshop asked if there was a list anywhere detailing the closed-captioning capabilities of the various boxes. Wallgren said the government had no such list but Wikipedia did, and consumers could find that page by Googling “Wikipedia” and “CECB” (for coupon-eligible converter boxes.)