Low-Power Broadcasters Sue Over Analog Blockage in Converter Box Program

Following through on its threats, the Community Broadcasters Association, representing low-power broadcasters, filed suit in federal court to block the distribution of over-the-air converter boxes that block analog signals.

CBA has maintained that most of the boxes eligible for the government’s $40 coupon violate the All Channel Receiver Act, which mandates that all TV receivers be capable of receiving all channels. Most boxes available at retail lack an analog pass-through function that would enable reception of those low-power, Class A and translator TV stations that will continue broadcasting in analog after their full-power counterparts cease on Feb. 18, 2009.

The 25-page CBA petition, filed Wednesday (March 26) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, asks the court to direct the FCC “to take immediate steps to require compliance” with the law and its own rules.

“The need for action is especially urgent, since noncompliant devices are being sold today and are being subsidized by a federal program that stimulates immediate purchasing because subsidy coupons expire only 90 days after being mailed by the government,” the CBA petition says. “The FCC has refused to intervene to enforce the law despite having been formally asked to do so.”

NAB and the Consumer Electronics Association, wary of any stumbles in the DTV transition, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the suit. But CEA has charged that the real CBA agenda is to secure must-carry rights on cable. NAB has also claimed it is working on the low-power question, forming a task force on the issue and seeking information about what viewers are affected.

Separately, CBA has repeatedly tried to keep people and materials from repeating the incorrect mantra that “all” analog broadcasts will cease in 2009. The group is also fighting industry officials who have suggested the low-power stations do not have significant numbers of viewers.

“We’re fighting a very tough battle, especially when officials are out there saying the wrong thing,” said Greg Herman, CBA vice president of technology. “We’re very tired of people trying to marginalize our audience. It’s blatantly disrespectful. We’re not going to tolerate it.”