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DTV Delay Made Official

12 Feb, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

President Obama signed the bill Feb. 11 delaying the digital TV transition to June 12. However, even though millions of American homes still getting their TV via analog transmissions have been given a reprieve, fresh concerns are popping up.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which in January ran out of the $1.34 billion Congress gave it to administer a $40 consumer coupon program for digital converter boxes, has more than 3.5 million people on the waiting list for coupons. The stimulus bill working its way through Congress includes more than $600 million to replenish the program.

But if the coupon program does get funding, and if people with coupons already in hand join the millions waiting for coupons and buy digital converter boxes, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates that retailers could run out of the boxes quickly.

“As of [Feb. 4], consumers had redeemed coupons to purchase approximately 22.6 million converter boxes, according to the NTIA,” Michael Petricone, CEA SVP of government affairs wrote in a letter to the FCC. “We now estimate that U.S. retailers have inventory of between 3 million and 6 million DTV converter boxes.” Nearly 4.5 million of the coupons have been redeemed since the start of 2009, he said.

“The worst-case scenario is that there are only 3 million boxes in current inventory and daily redemptions stay at 115,000,” he continued. “We will then run out of box inventory by the end of February. … We believe that there is a possibility that we may have a temporary shortage in February or March.”

Before the delay, retailers such as Best Buy had reported they were well-stocked with the boxes, but because manufacturers of the boxes may have stopped producing them in anticipation of Feb. 17, they may have to restart production knowing how many people are on the NTIA waiting list, Petricone concluded.

On the broadcast side, local TV stations that prepared for the digital transition to occur this month may go ahead and shut down analog broadcasts, if at least one news station in their market will continue to broadcast via analog, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC told The Associated Press that 491 of the more than 1,700 full-power stations nationwide have asked to shut down analog broadcasts Feb. 17.

The Nielsen Co. has estimated that 6.5 million homes are currently unprepared for the analog shut-off.

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