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EchoStar DTV Box Slated For June

Littleton, Colo. — The first wave of digital TV converter-box coupons may be going out this week, but EchoStar’s much-publicized $39.99 converter box won’t be available until June or July, the company told TWICE.

The company, which recently split off its set-top box division from its Dish Network satellite TV service, made headlines at International CES by announcing plans to market a DTV converter box that would be eligible for National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) $40 TV converter box coupons, making it effectively free to consumers who participate.

However, under the company’s timetable, the converter box — model TR-40 — may not be available to the earliest people to receive coupons, since the mandated redemption period is 90 days.

According to a company spokesperson, much of EchoStar’s marketing and distribution logistics are still being worked out on the product. The company could not directly answer our question about which dealers it was targeting in its distribution strategy, except to say: “We are still working on distribution but expect national distribution through Dish Network retailers.”

At International CES, EchoStar and Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen said that one of the reasons the company decided to produce a converter box was to use the devices to up sell customers to Dish Network TV service, either at the time of purchase or at some point in the future.

Asked if the company also planned to use the box to expand its network of CE retail partners, an EchoStar spokesperson said: “Dish Network is always looking for great partners to work with to grow our business.”

Also “to be determined” is whether or not Dish Network will offer any additional promotional incentives to help set-top box shoppers step up to Dish Network TV services.

As for the exact brand name(s) the company will use to market converter boxes, EchoStar’s spokesperson said “to be determined.”

A possibility, the company acknowledged, is that some of the boxes could be produced for private-label distribution for some accounts, but no such plans were disclosed.

As for set-top box set-up and installation assistance, the company said, “Dish Network wants to make the transition as easy as possible for affected consumers. We plan to include easy setup instructions with the TR boxes and recommend that consumers visit the (CEA/NAB) AntennaWeb site for more information on the proper antenna for their region,” and as for the company’s return policy for customers with reception issues, the company told TWICE: “We are still determining how we will service TR customers.”

As announced at CES, EchoStar intends to offer two set-top converter box options. The aforementioned TR-40 will be coupon eligible and will include an electronic program guide, and analog signal pass through, meaning it will allow the TV to work with analog broadcasts today and digital broadcasts after the 2009 transition.

A second step-up box option, model TR-50, will not be eligible for the government coupons, because it will include more advanced features borrowed from Dish Network satellite receivers, including IPTV connectivity, dual-tuners and digital video recorder functionality, the company said. Pricing on theTR-50 is still to be determined.