Consumer Electronics and Broadcast Industries Applaud NTIA Converter Box Rules for 2009 DTV Transition

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s the nation prepares to complete the transition to digital television, final rules announced today by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) provide much-needed certainty to broadcasters, manufacturers, retailers and ultimately the American public, according to the leading trade associations representing broadcasters and consumer electronics manufacturers.

The transition from analog to digital broadcasting in the

United States is scheduled for completion on February 17, 2009. Following that date, consumers will require a digital-to-analog converter box in order to continue receiving free, broadcast programming via over-the-air reception on their analog TV sets.

The digital TV transition rules issued by NTIA – the arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce charged with overseeing a consumer coupon program for digital-to-analog converter set-top boxes – reflect the major consensus agreement of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV).

Last fall, broadcasters and manufacturers reached an historic cross-industry consensus on key issues raised by the NTIA in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Among other things, MSTV, CEA and NAB agreed to and recommended minimum performance requirements for eligible digital converter boxes in this unique instance of a government-funded consumer coupon program. The NTIA’s rules are consistent with the industries’ joint recommendations, including assurances that coupon-eligible converters will be verified by the Federal Communications Commission upon NTIA’s request.

The NTIA rules follow the joint recommendations of the manufacturers and broadcasters regarding the features of the basic converter boxes eligible for the coupon program, including agreement that optional functions that aid in the reception or navigation of over-the-air programs such as electronic program guides and “smart antenna” interfaces should not preclude converter boxes from eligibility in the NTIA consumer coupon program.

Also agreeing with the broadcasters, manufacturers, and many other stakeholders, the NTIA did not initially limit eligibility for converter box coupons to analog-broadcast-only households, realizing that limiting coupons in this way would ignore the secondary TV sets in cable and satellite households that are connected to an antenna for over-the-air reception. As emphasized by CEA and the broadcasters, energy efficiency also is a key ingredient of the NTIA program, tied to new energy efficiency requirements for coupon-eligible converter boxes.

“The nation’s move to digital television is proceeding apace, and today’s NTIA action is a vital step in this successful transition. Regulatory certainty is important to manufacturers and retailers that are assisting consumers in preparing for the DTV transition, including providing consumers the option of using digital-to-analog converters. CEA and its members are proud of our role in introducing digital TV, and especially HDTV, to the American public. Consumers are learning about the transition and rapidly embracing digital technology, with over 50 million digital televisions already in American homes,” said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro.

“The NTIA’s final DTV rules reflect the appreciation Americans place on having access to free, local television. Both government and industry have an obligation to complete the DTV transition with as little disruption to consumers as possible. The NTIA’s digital converter box coupon program, supported by a broad-based consumer education and marketing campaign, will bring tens of millions of viewers into the digital age,” said David K. Rehr, President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters.

MSTV President David Donovan stated: “The NTIA’s rulemaking helps to assure that all Americans will continue to enjoy the full benefits of over-the-air television, consistent with our program launched in late 2005 to work with manufacturers to develop high-quality, low-cost digital-to-analog converter boxes. It is particularly gratifying that the NTIA followed our recommendations regarding converter-box reception specifications and features, including smart antennas and electronic program guides.”