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NAB, APTS Push Online DTV-Box Purchasing

Commercial and noncommercial broadcasters and tech companies Thursday wrote the National Telecommunications & Information Administration advocating an Internet voucher system for DTV-to-analog converters, which will insure their analog-only viewers don't lose their TV signals.

NTIA is administering a program to supply those boxes to millions--estimates vary--so that analog-only households can still receive a signal when the country switches to all-digital broadcast TV in February 2009. NTIA has also been given $5 million for a consumer awareness campaign. NTIA is preparing a notice of proposed rulemaking outlining the DTV transition program and campaign.

In a letter to acting NTIA acting assistant secretary (and the White House choice to head the agency) John Kneuer, the broadcasters argued that an online process employing electronic debit cards rather than paper vouchers would cut down on fraud.

"While the [Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act pf 2005] requires that the vouchers [up to two, $40 chits] be mailed to requesting households," they argue, "nothing in the Act requires that the vouchers be printed on paper. In fact, use of electronic debit cards with unique identification numbers that can be tracked to ensure protections against fraud, would reduce fraud and would recognize the reality of online consumer purchasing behavior.

A number of Republican legislators raised the issue of possible fraud, likening it to welfare, when debating the efficacy of a voucher program.

The groups signing the letter, which included the National Association of Broadcasters, Association of Public Television Stations, Consumer Electronics Association, Harris Corp., LG Electronics, and the American Library Association, also argued that the cost of the consumer awareness campaign would "far exceed the five million dollars."

They called for a "comprehensive, coordinated, and harmonized national consumer effort," to begin "promptly," and expressed their willingness to "actively participate in the task of formulating and managing the consumer education efforts for a successful digital television transition."