CEA’s Shapiro Supports Converter-Box-Coupon Extensions

Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro said Thursday that he thought the government should give viewers more time to cash in their digital-TV-to-analog converter-box coupons.

Shapiro said there was a growing consensus that viewers should be allowed to reapply for the coupons being handed out by the government toward the purchase of the converter boxes, which will allow viewers with analog-only sets not hooked to cable or satellite to still see full-power TV-station signals after Feb. 17, 2009.

"I think there is a growing consensus for that," he said, adding: “I don't know what the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) position is, but it would make sense if they could do it consistent with their contract with IBM."

Acting NTIA head Meredith Baker told concerned legislators at a hearing two weeks ago that she would investigate what it would take for IBM to do that. The program was set up for the coupons to expire in 90 days in an effort to prevent a secondary black market in the boxes.

But Shapiro said the general idea is to make the DTV transition work and "not to get stuck on the fact that there is this 90-day window."

Shapiro said he thought the DTV-education program was going along well and he did not buy the doom-and-gloom scenarios about Feb. 17, 2009.

"The world is not going to shut down and nuclear missiles are not going to go off" if a few people lose TV service for a short amount of time, he said, comparing what he called a "minuscule" number of those with, say, the “2 million people who lost their homes due to foreclosures in 2007."

Shapiro added that the DTV-education initiative, in which the CEA is a leader, would do all that it could to try to make sure nobody lost service because they were unaware of the transition. That's our job," he said, adding, "Everyone should know about it."

Shapiro said he expected that fewer than 10% of TV households would need the converter boxes, pointing out that cable and satellite penetration are already about 86% and growing and that more than one-half of TV households have DTV sets, with another 32 million projected to be sold in 2008.

He called the DTV transition the industry's Y2K -- by which he meant a lot of preparation with ultimately a lot of unnecessary anxiety -- but he also said it was unlike Y2K because the consequences were hardly as dire.

"This isn't about losing your homes, this stuff we're dealing with,” he added. “It's not about losing your health or a loved one. It's about the potential loss of television service for a few people for a short time."

Shapiro said he has been accused of being Pollyanna, but he is "embracing" the transformative change of the digital revolution. "The consumer-awareness program is working,” he added. “People love HDTV. Life is good."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.