Copps Slams Govt for Switchoff Test Laxity
WASHINGTON, DC: The US government plans to give Americans with analog-only TV sets $40 (€27.39; £20.16) coupons redeemable against the purchase of digital converter boxes.
The coupons will enable consumers to continue viewing when analog 'over-the-air' TV signals are finally switched off on 18 February 2009.
Congress has allocated $1.5 billion, inclusive of administration costs, to fund 33.5 million coupons primarily intended for non-pay-TV subscribers.
The boxes, which will cost between $50-$70, will be on sale at most major electronics retail outlets, although the offer will not apply to cable or satellite viewers whose TVs are already digital-enabled.
Viewers can request two $40 coupons per household as part-payment for digiboxes. They are obtainable via the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by applying either online or via a 24-hour telephone hotline.
According to The Nielsen Company, around 14.3m homes - equivalent to 13% of all US TV-households - depend on over-the-air TV transmissions.
NTIA director of consumer education Tony Wilhelm believes there will be sufficient coupons to satisfy demand. "We think the high number will be 26m," he says. "Low end is ten million."
Democrat commissioner Michael Copps has revealed that the Federal Communications Commission is finally to discuss whether or not to conduct digital transition pilots in a number of test markets before the analog switch-off date.
Says Copps: "I recognize there may be legal, technical, and practical challenges with planning and conducting such a test this close to the national transition date. But I believe it can be done."
He did not, however, flag any likely dates or locations for such tests.
Copps has been a scathing critic of the administration's failure to invest sufficient cash in educating the public about the transition - although the cable industry has launched a $200m consumer education program, and broadcast TV stations have allocated $691m for a similar effort..
According to Copps, FCC chairman Kevin J Martin and unnamed "colleagues" have finally agreed "to sit down now and begin exploring the idea of one or more dTV demonstration projects" in several markets.
And having sunk his canines firmly into this morsel of federal footdragging, Copps won't let go.
"Pulling the switch on stations all across the land at one and the same time in February 2009 is going to be a real throw of the dice.
"It is unfathomable to me that we are planning to turn off every analog signal in the country on a single day without running at least one test market first," he contends.
Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online and Multichannel.com; additional content by WARC staff