WASHINGTON DC: A US industry body representing owners of small television stations has gone to law in a bid to prevent the marketing of digital TV converter boxes that block analog signals.

The Community Broadcasters Association claims its 'low-power' members face a "death sentence" next February when the government switches off the analog signal in favor of DTV transmission for full-power stations.

Households that still rely on antennas and do not have DTV sets will need to buy converter boxes - subsidised by the federal government - or face a blackout.

Most converter boxes will block the low-power analog signal from thousands of small TV stations - including some network affiliates and numerous Spanish-language stations - which are not required to comply with the transition deadline.

Consequently, the CBA wants the Federal Communciations Commission to insist that manufacturers only make boxes that receive both types of signal. It is now pressing its point via the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In addition, it is demanding that DTV education campaigns do not imply that that all analog broadcasting will end in February 2009.

Declares CBA president Ron Bruno: "We have done all we can to work with the broadcasting, manufacturing and retailing industries.

"We are simply not convinced that they are willing to do what is necessary to properly educate the public and provide workable solutions for the average, over-the-air viewer. Every time a person ... buys a converter box and plugs it in, we lose that viewer."

The court action has provoked fury from manufacturers.

Thunders Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association of Manufacturers: "This is an irresponsible lawsuit, as was CBA's advertising calling the government program a 'scam'.

"CBA should act in the national interest and either shift to digital or promote the several converter box models with analog pass-through that already provide the solution CBA seeks."

The FCC remains zip-lipped.

Data sourced from USA Today.com; additional content by WARC staff