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3/12/2007
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Government Releases Transition Plan For End Of Analog TV

The government will provide coupons to help households buy analog-to-digital converter boxes so they can continue to receive over-the-air television for free.

The federal government has released its final rules on plans for a digital-to-analog converter box coupon program to help Americans receive free digital TV transmission when the age of analog comes to a close in the United States.

"This really has the opportunity to be an absolute game changer in the broadband marketplace," Assistant Secretary of Communications and Information John Kneuer said during a news conference Monday.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced rules Monday that set the stage for manufacturers and retailers to move forward with a switch that is supposed to result in clearer pictures, more programming, broader spectrum for wireless service, and interoperability for emergency responders. The digital age of television is scheduled to take off Feb. 17, 2009, when full-power television stations stop analog broadcasts.

Federal laws require the switch. They also require the government to help some Americans pay for boxes that will allow their television sets to receive digital transmissions.

From Jan. 1, 2008, through March 31, 2009, each U.S. household can request up to two coupons worth $40 each toward the purchase of two analog-to-digital converter boxes, the NTIA said. The federal government has allocated $990 million for the program. Administrators expect that to fund more than 22 million coupons. The NTIA can ask Congress for about $500 million more to cover more than 11 million additional coupons and contingent funds, which administrators said they would reserve for homeowners that only receive over-the-air broadcasts.

Regulators say people with cable and satellite television should not need the boxes. The coupons apply only to basic boxes that meet energy efficiency standards, not for boxes with advanced recording and playback features. Government contractors will store applicants' information in a database. The government will prosecute individuals who commit fraud using criminal statutes, and retailers violating the terms of the program will be banned from it, NTIA administrators said during the news conference.

Consumer electronics and broadcasting groups have formed a coalition to cooperate on an analog-to-digital public education campaign.

Industry and government leaders are eager for the switch to digital, which will broaden the transmission spectrum to provide capabilities that public and private groups seek.

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