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Digital Transition Seen as One Step Closer

Mar 8, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The director of the federal government agency charged with educating the public on the coming digital TV transition predicted the next step in the switchover is imminent.

John N.R. Kneurer said the Office of Management & Budget is nearly ready to formally OK the agency’s proposed rule-setting standards for analog-to-digital converter boxes and eligibility for government discount coupons. However, Kneurer, who as assistant secretary of commerce heads the National Telecommunications & Information Association, declined to say whether that approval could come as soon as Friday.

Formal promulgation of the rule has been holding up the digital transition. Both the launch of full-scale manufacture of the converter boxes that will be needed for analog TVs when the country switches to digital Feb. 17, 2009, and the government’s hiring of a fulfillment house to give out the coupons, good for $40 toward the boxes, have been delayed.

The delay has drawn the ire of some Democrats, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich.

The government has set aside $1.5 billion for the coupons and it expected to reserve them for households without cable or satellite. Democrats contend the funding is insufficient.

Mr. Kneurer made his prediction to reporters Thursday after testifying about the department’s budget to a panel of the House Appropriations Committee.

“We have answered all their questions. I don’t foresee the need for lots of time-consuming, continuing negotiation,” he said of the OMB, which must approve federal rulemaking.

At the hearing, Mr. Kneurer told congressman that NTIA intended to use the $5 million set aside to publicize the digital transition solely to publicize the coupon program. He said the agency would rely on a coalition of broadcasters, retailers and consumer-electronics makers to publicize the digital transition itself, but with the idea that both efforts would be integrated and the coalition effort would direct consumers who are eligible for rebates to the NTIA Web site.

He predicted occasional TV watchers would be the most difficult to reach.

Several members questioned the Bush administration’s proposal to eliminate separate funding for a grant program intended to provide facilities for public broadcast stations. Mr. Kneurer said the administration’s budget would let the Corporation for Public Broadcasting weigh the merits of funding programming versus making facility grants.

(Editor: Horowitz)