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Open Mike

Not Easy, Indeed

Editor: Your editorial about conversion from analog to digital (Conversion Won't Be Easy, Sept. 3) was right on target. You have, however, neglected to mention one other fact that will further hinder this badly thought-out transition:

The $40 coupons that the government intends to issue to convert the estimated 75 million sets will be valid for only 90 days.

Sources tell me that in the beginning particularly, the boxes will cost between $60 and $100, and that IBM, one of the manufacturers, plans to price them accordingly. So, if you apply for the coupons early in 2009, you will have to pay the difference between the value of the coupon and the actual cost of the converter box. As the deadline for the converters approaches, the price is supposed to drop, but by then most of coupons will have expired.

This is another example of the misguided and ill-advised actions of the FCC. As I have outlined in my book, Television Tightrope, the FCC, from its early history, has given us an inferior television signal (525 lines vs 625 lines in Europe, for example); approved the wrong television color system, only to reverse the decision years later; issued UHF licenses and mixed UHF with VHF at a time when there were no sets capable of receiving UHF; caused the demise of AM stereo; restricted movies on pay cable; and on and on.

Is it not time for once for the commission to consider the consumer?

What goes?

Ralph M. Baruch

New York

[Baruch is founder and former CEO of Viacom International.]

CEA's Converter Stance

Editor: Your editorial correctly points out that consumer education will be vital to a successful DTV transition, but it improperly characterizes my views on the subject. The CEA never lobbied for government funding of a DTV converter box coupon program; I never said that government should not have allocated the money.

The DTV transition presents enormous opportunity for all of our industries, but only if we work together to educate consumers. As a founding member of the DTV Transition Coalition, I am proud to work with broadcasters, cable companies and others to make the transition a success.

Gary Shapiro

President and CEO

Consumer Electronics Association

Washington, D.C.

[Shapiro concedes that while CEA never lobbied for or requested government funding, the organization did not oppose it, either.]