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NTIA Gathers Input on Converter Box Program

John Taylor from TV set maker LG Electronics said Monday that the prototype DTV converter box will cost about $60 and be available in early 2008.

Taylor made his comments in the first of what the National Telecommunications & Information Administrationsaid would be regular public meetings on the DTV conversion program. The program gives households up to two $40 coupons for converter boxes. The converter boxes will allow analog-only TV sets to receive a digital signal after the switch-over in February 2009 .

That puts the cost of the DTV conversion at $20 per TV  for the first two analog-only TV's in a household.

Viewers will have to request the coupons via application, and government must prepare to process the application requests by January 2008.

During the public forum on the conversion rules, a representative of Samsung asked when retailers would start accepting the coupons so that manufacturers will know what to tell their customers. NTIA DTV converter box Program Director Anita Walgren said she expected "widespread redemptions" in the first quarter of 2008, but she said it was unclear whether manufacturers will have shipped the boxes by that date. 

A representative of the American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD) said she was concerned that people with disabilities had not been identified by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration as a key target population for the DTV converter box education campaign.

She asked for assurances that the Public Service Campaign about the converters would be closed captioned. Walgren said that and other issues would be hammere out as NTIA worked with contractors on the program, but NITA pledged to reach out to the disability community and said it was a priority constituency.

The box is not required to provide reception of specialized secondary audio channel services like video description, which the AAPD rep said was problematic.

An NTIA spokesman said since the FCC does not require that reception, it did not feel authorized to do so.

Mark Lloyd, veteran broadcast attorney and advisor to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said his group, which includes the NAACP and National Council of Churches, was concerned about people's access local news and information. "Many folks could be cut off form that important information," he said. 

He said his group would work directly with churches and unions to spread the word virally about the coupon probram so that people could take advantage of the offer. He plans to speak "to people you trust in language they are comfortable with."