NAB Wants Eyes on Wilmington DTV Switch

NAB Asks NTIA to Make Converter-Box Requests from Wilmington a Priority

The National Association of Broadcasters wants to make sure that the government is paying sufficient attention to the potential problems with its Wilmington, N.C., test of the switch to digital TV.

Concerned that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is bogged down with DTV-to-analog converter-box-coupon requests, NAB president David Rehr asked NTIA acting head Meredith Attwell Baker to make requests from Wilmington a priority.

"It is our understanding that the NTIA is currently processing through a backlog of coupons, and it is crucial for viewers in that market to have immediate, priority access to coupons," Rehr wrote.

"We will respond to the letter at the appropriate time," an NTIA spokesman said. The NTIA Web site said it is currently processing requests within 1-3 weeks.

Rehr also urged the NTIA and the Federal Communications Comnmission to get together to make sure converter boxes that pass through analog signals are made available as soon as possible. He pointed out that the CBS station in the market is a low-power station that is not currently broadcasting in digital -- low-powers don't have any deadline for their conversion, in contrast to full-power stations, which must already be broadcasting digital signals and pull the plug on analog Feb. 17, 2009.

The Wilmington stations -- including WILM-LP, the CBS affiliate -- volunteered to go all-digital Sept. 8 in order to allow the FCC to kick the tires on the switch early and help anticipate the issues arising from what will be the biggest technological conversion in the industry's history.

But since viewers may be getting and hooking up the boxes throughout the summer, the NAB doesn't want broadcasters confused if they attempt to watch WILM using the digital box before that station has a digital signal up and running.

The NAB also asked for a weekly update from the NTIA on coupon applications and redemptions in the Wilmington DMA. Last week, Baker said 5% of the Wilmington market requested more than 23,000 coupons.