Shapiro and Rehr Correspond

Letter writing has not died in the nation's capital. Just this week, the chiefs of two lobbies engaged in the art of correspondence. NAB President and CEO dropped a line to Gary Shapiro, chief of the Consumer Electronics Association saying there'd better be plenty of converter boxes in time for the analog shutdown. Shapiro said thank you for the lovely note.

Rehr actually started his missive with multiple kudos about CEA's participation in the DTV Transition Coalition, its support for the FCC retail warning order, and its TV mast Web site, Then he launched into the meat of the matter.

"I also want to highlight the importance of industry commitments to both make available and have in stock digital converter boxes in all consumer electronics retail stores on Jan. 1, 2008," Rehr wrote. The boxes are the devices by which analog televisions will be able to decode digital signals after the analog shutdown of Feb. 17, 2009. "As I am sure you are... aware, if boxes are not produced and on store shelves on Jan. 1, 2008, significant consumer confusion will result and could negatively impact the overall success of the transition."

"Dear David," the CEA chief wrote "... Thank you for offering your support of CEA's antenna selector Web site... which we've independently produced, promoted and supported since 1999... we welcome your participation going forward."

Shapiro further said that three manufacturers are making boxes spec'd to the subsidy coupon program being administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The NTIA released its manufacturer specs in mid-March and issued a request for proposals on running the coupon program. Those proposals were due April 30; the contract is not expected to be awarded until mid-August, which Shapiro pointed out in his letter to Rehr.

"I'm sure your industry joins ours in eagerly awaiting NTIA's Aug. 15 announcement of further coupon program specifications so that we all have the necessary information to implement the program," he said.

Shapiro also noted that it would be unlikely that boxes appear on the shelves of all electronics retailers. First, the coupon program will require some seriously hefty purchase tracking that a smaller, private business may not wish to undertake. Second, big-box retailers may elect to ship converters from a central location rather than stock shelves in areas of minimal demand.

"... but rest assured any American who wants to purchase a coupon-eligible box will have a wide variety of convenient retail sources from which to choose," Shapiro said.