NTIA seeks comment on proposal for digital converter box coupon program

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a public notice July 20 requesting comments on its plan to create and run a coupon program as part of the federal government’s decision to subsidize the purchase of millions of digital-to-analog converter boxes for consumers who don’t upgrade to DTV.

Under the plan, the NTIA would administer a program giving $40 coupons to consumers to subsidize the purchase of the converter box. NTSC transmission will cease in the United States on Feb. 17, 2009, with the culmination of the DTV conversion process. Without the converter box, consumers who rely solely on over-the-air broadcast will not be able to receive television signals. The Government Accounting Office estimates there are 45 million “broadcast-only” sets in households that rely exclusively on over-the-air reception for television and another 28 million such sets in homes with satellite or cable.

The NTIA is seeking public comment on numerous details of the coupon plan. Many center on how eligibility for the coupon will be determined. Congress charged the NTIA with administering the program under which “eligible U.S. households” may receive two converter box coupons. It did not define the word “eligible.”

The NTIA wants comment on its proposal to define eligible households as those that only receive over-the-air TV using analog-only televisions. This approach would exclude household that receive cable or satellite television “even if they have one or more analog-only television receivers not connected to such service,” according to the notice.

The NTIA also is seeking comment on whether or not “economic need” should be considered in eligibility requirements for coupons. If so, the NTIA wants to know how to determine economic need and if there should be a poverty threshold.

The NTIA also is seeking comment on its proposed process for distributing the coupons. That process, which would begin Jan. 1, 2008, and end March 31, 2009, would require people to submit an application with:

  • name;
  • address;
  • number of coupons required (maximum two);
  • certification that they only receive over-the-air TV using an NTSC receiver; and
  • certification that no other household member will apply for the coupon.

The NTIA also is proposing certain standards for a minimum-capabilities converter box that simply converts an ATSC terrestrial digital broadcasting signal to the analog NTSC format.

The converter box should “be able to receive, render and display usable pictures and sound” from HD and SD broadcast at SD quality. The NTIA is proposing the converter “be capable of receiving, decoding and presenting video and audio from digital television transmissions as specified in FCC Part 73 and ATSC Standards A/52A, A/53C and A/65B."

NTIA proposes the following characteristics in certifying a converter box:

  • appropriately processes all ATSC RF signals provided to the antenna-only input and then provides output signals in standard definition video for display on an NTSC television receiver/monitor;
  • delivers NTSC composite video and stereo audio to drive NTSC monitors;
  • delivers Channel 3 or 4 switchable (NTSC) RF output for television receivers;
  • complies with FCC requirements for closed captioned, Emergency Alert System (EAS) and parental controls;
  • is operable by and includes a remote control; and
  • tunes to all television channels from 2 through 69.

To read the request for comment and notice of proposed rulemaking in its entirety, visit: