FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said that, as a consumer-friendly policy, he would favor allowing viewers to reapply for coupons good for $40 toward the purchase of a DTV-to-analog converter box. The boxes will be required for analog-only TV sets to continue to receive a DTV signal after the transition to digital in February 2009.
"I think that we should try to be sure that we do everything we can to make this transition as easy from the consumer perspective and the least burdensome as possible," he told reporters in a briefing Friday. "So, to the extent that we are able to do anything to make it easier for them to obtain coupons for converter boxes or make any other changes, I end up thinking that is a good idea."
But he deferred to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration on whether it has the authority to do that absent Congress. NTIA acting head Meredith Attwell Baker has said that the agency can make that change, but is waiting for more data on how many coupons are being redeemed.
The first coupons mailed out by NTIA in mid-February are beginning to expire.
Asked about whether the FCC's Wilmington, N.C., test of the analog cut-off will include the issue of problems with DTV reception, he said it would, adding that the FCC was looking to get more data on the so-called "cliff" effect—that is, the fact that DTV signals is either very good or very bad, depending on the strength.
But Martin also pointed out that problems with some of today's DTV reception may be attributable to the fact that some stations are not at full power yet. Also, some antennas currently transmitting in digital are side-mounted since the primary analog transmitters are top-mounted; that will change after the transition.