The groups get together to offer the NTIA advice on how to run a coupon program for subsidizing the purchase of converters that will allow consumers to receive digital broadcast signals on conventional analog sets.
The consumer electronics manufacturers and broadcasters have not always seen eye to eye on the transition of TV broadcasting from analog to digital.
But the principal trade groups for the two industries—the Consumer Electronics Association, the Association for Maximum Service Television and the National Association of Broadcasters—put those differences aside today and filed joint comments on the federal government’s plan to subsidize the purchase of converters that will allow consumers to receive digital broadcast signals on conventional analog sets.
The converters should be much in demand after Feb. 17, 2009, when the law requires broadcasters to cease broadcasting analog signals and go digital only. Conventional sets without the converters will suddenly become obsolete.
Congress authorized the coupon program and charged the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration with managing it.
In their comments to the NTIA, the trade groups oppose limiting coupons to analog-broadcast-only households, argue that distributing coupons according to economic need is impractical and inconsistent with Congressional intent, pledge active participation in comprehensive DTV consumer education programs, and make energy efficiency a key ingredient of the NTIA program.
The groups also recommend minimum performance requirements and features for the converters and suggest that consumers be allowed to use the coupons for converters with advanced features like electronic program guides and “smart antenna” interfaces.
“The digital television transition is the single most significant conversion in the history of broadcast television, and it promises to bring important and long-awaited benefits to the American public,” the trade associations say. “In implementing the converter box program, NTIA must ensure that no consumer is left behind.”
To guide NTIA on how to administer the coupon program, the trade groups offered the following principles:
- Continued Consumer Access to the Broadcast Service. The coupon is not a subsidy program; it is a consumer reimbursement program. NTIA’s administration of the program must effectively ensure continuity of service to existing analog television sets.
- Availability of High Quality, Usable, Low-Cost Converter Boxes. Consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses for DTA converters must be minimized and the converter boxes must be intuitive and work properly in the myriad of challenging installation configurations in which they will be placed.
- Simplicity and Clarity. NTIA’s administration of the program must strive for simplicity. For consumers and others involved, the program must also be easy to understand and follow.
- Fairness and Prevention of Waste and Abuse. The program should be structured
- to facilitate equitable distribution of coupons to all Americans with analog televisions that depend on over-the-air broadcasts. The program should also be structured to prevent abuses and waste and deter fraudulent attempts to obtain program benefits.
- Cooperation. The government, broadcasters, manufacturers, and retailers must each contribute to the above goals by providing consumers with the tools and information necessary to make effective use of the converter box program.