NAB, CEA Agree on Converter Box Basics

The National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Association have not always seen eye to eye on issues related to the DTV transition, but they are on the same page--make that 25 pages--when it comes to the new DTV converter box subsidy.

In a 25-page comment filed jointly to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is administering the program, NAB, CEA, and the Association for Maximum Service Television (broadcasters' spectrum policy watchdog) called for covering all analog-only sets, not just ones in analog-only households, and said that the coupon's should not be based on economic need, but instead on "continuity of service."

NTIA will get up to $1.5 billion to administer the DTV-to-analog subsidy, which is intended to keep over-the-air analog sets from going dark after February 2009, when broadcasting goes all-digital.

The groups pledged to provide consumers with the "tools and information" they will need. That will be key for NTIA, which has been given only $5 million by Congress for a public information campaign, or as acting NTIA head John Kneuer has said, the price of a couple of spots in the Super Bowl.

Calling it a historic meeting of the minds, NAB outlined the trio's basic core principles:

"• Continued Consumer Access to the Broadcast Service. The associations state that the DTA 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."