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Support Voiced For New DTV Transition Date

2/09/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Reaction to Congressional approval, announced Wednesday, of a delay in the transition to all-digital TV broadcasting varied among industry and community leaders, although most pledged to continue outreach efforts to bring consumers up to speed.

The House of Representatives approved legislation to delay the analog TV cutoff date 115 days to June 12, 2009, in a 264-158 vote. The measure, which was identical to a bill passed unanimously by the Senate for a second time, will now be sent to President Barack Obama, who, at press time, was expected to sign it into law.

The Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition, a public policy organization for major retailers of consumer electronics products, pledged that its members “will attempt to provide customers with correct information.” But Chris McLean, CERC executive director, described the environment for training retail associates and educating consumers as “challenging in light of the uncertainty about when particular local broadcasters will actually be able to cease analog broadcasting.”

McLean said CERC will recommend retailers take the most conservative approach, which is least likely to mislead consumers, by continuing to emphasize the Feb. 17 date, and the need for consumers to take action now.

The association has also revised its consumer guide to the DTV transition at www.ceretailers.org, in which the organization states that despite a new final shutoff date for full-power analog broadcasts of June 12, hundreds of broadcasters nationally appear likely to turn off analog stations on Feb. 17, or at some time before June 12. Therefore, consumers are advised to prepare for the analog shutoff as expeditiously as they can, and still by Feb. 17 if possible.

There are several means of preparing for the analog shutoff, including buying a new television or subscribing to a cable or satellite service. Whenever a local station converts to digital-only broadcasting, consumers will need to do a channel “re-scan” for any device hooked to a TV antenna — whether it is an existing TV with a DTV tuner, or a converter.

While consumers should start by assuming that their existing antenna will suit their needs, they may find that newer antenna designs may work more effectively or reliably.

Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) president/CEO, said: “Our nation is leading the world in the digital migration, and CEA again pledges full support for a successful transition to digital television. We will quickly update our consumer education material as necessary and we will devote a significant portion of our Washington Forum event in April to DTV education.”

He added, “As CEA has repeatedly cautioned, this date change will inject uncertainty into the market and may result in a shortage of converter boxes, because manufacturers and retailers planned box inventory based on a Feb. 17 transition date. CEA urges Congress and the Administration to take the necessary steps to ensure converter box availability and to urge consumers to act immediately to enjoy the benefits of DTV.”

Dallas-based market research firm Digital Tech Consulting (DTC) issued updated survey information projecting that 37 million converter boxes will reach consumers by summertime, following the extension.

“We are forecasting strong demand [for converters] that will ultimately keep 37 million analog TVs going as the nation moves to all-digital broadcasting,” said Myra Moore, DTC principal.

Earlier, DTC estimated 33.5 million converters were shipped to retailers in 2008 in preparation for the previous Feb. 17 deadline.

DTC said coupon-redemption rates now top 53 percent. To date, viewers have purchased nearly 22 million converter boxes with government coupons, and DTC estimated that another 4 million were purchased in 2008 without the discount.

While it is expected that converters will be available throughout 2009, demand will fall off precipitously after the June 12 analog switch-off, DTC predicted.

Acting FCC chairman Michael J. Copps said, “The additional four months provided by the law affords urgently-needed time for a more phased transition, including a consumer-friendly converter-box coupon program, stepped-up consumer outreach and support — particularly for vulnerable populations — and dealing with coverage, antenna and reception issues that went too long unaddressed.”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) welcomed the House passage of the delay bill, saying it “will allow more time for the government to fix the coupon program.” David Rehr, NAB president/CEO, said his organization is providing new television spots and resources that promote the June 12 deadline.

The NAB will also work with stations to coordinate additional analog shutoff tests to raise awareness and help consumers prepare for the DTV transition. More than 1,000 full-power stations in over 200 television markets have already conducted DTV consumer readiness tests, which have proven effective in helping consumers prepare their homes for all-digital television broadcasting.

However, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), earlier called on the public to contact local broadcast stations and ask that they stick to the new June 12 deadline, and not turnoff their analog TV stations earlier, as allowed under the law.

For more on the debate on Congress on the issue, and other opinions in our blogs and Talkback, visit www.TWICE.com.

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