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Martin: Where Are $40 DTV Converter Boxes?

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin asked that retail stores carry EchoStar's $40 digital-TV-to-analog converter box, saying that none of the major retailers was carrying the low-cost boxes.

The box would be essentially free with the government's $40 subsidy coupon, but the boxes are not yet widely available in stores, Martin said.

In a letter to Christopher McLean, executive director of the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition, which was published on the FCC's Web site, Martin said the FCC determined that "none" of the major retail outlets was carrying the box or planning to carry it.

Martin conceded that it is available online, but at a shipping cost of $10-$12, and at a "few, very small retail outlets."

Martin said he was asking the CERC to ask members like Wal-Mart Stores; Sears, Roebuck; Best Buy; Circuit City; and RadioShack to stock at least one make of $40 converter box in their stores.

That letter was posted the day before Martin and McLean both testified -- on different panels -- at a House hearing on the status of the DTV transition.

At that hearing, McLean was asked about the availability of the low-cost boxes. He said there were a variety of issues that affected availability in stores, but given Martin's posting of the letter, all of his members were aware of Martin's request.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, which held the hearing, said he wanted McLean to keep the committee informed about which of his members were stepping up to get low-cost boxes into stores and analog-pass through boxes to those who needed them.

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.