DTV players champion converter boxes at Best Buy store

Key players involved in the nation’s DTV transition gathered at a Best Buy store in northwest Washington, D.C., last week to bring attention to the coming availability of digital converter boxes.

In attendance were U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, FCC chairman Kevin Martin, Best Buy senior vice president Michael Vitelli, NAB president David K. Rehr, NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow, NTIA chief Meredith Atwell Baker and CEA vice president Jason Oxman. CEA president Gary Shapiro was attending a board meeting in Utah.

The NTIA is overseeing the converter-box-coupon program, and it has said boxes will be on the shelves Feb. 17, when it will start processing coupon requests. Since Jan. 1, more than 2 million people have already applied for more than 4 million coupons.

The NAB’s Rehr said broadcasters would launch a new set of public-service announcements later this month focusing on the coupon program, as part of a $1 billion education effort.

Martin proposed requiring broadcasters to air a certain minimum number of PSAs, while broadcasters countered with their own proposal, whereby stations that voluntarily exceed that minimum should be exempt from such rules.

Martin said he and the others were united in an effort to make sure viewers don’t wake up to a blank screen Feb. 17, 2009, when many stations will cease broadcasting in analog. Low-power and Class A stations, those that serve rural areas and foreign language communities, will continue to transmit in analog for the foreseeable future.