In one of its first major acts since completing the spin-off of its satellite equipment and DBS service businesses on January 1, EchoStar Holding Corp. unveiled a digital television (DTV) converter box at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show that would be free of charge to consumers who obtain a $40 DTV converter coupon offered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). As part of legislation that requires the completion of the national DTV transition in February 2009, Congress set aside $1.5 billion in subsidies for the NTIA program that provides two $40 coupons for each U.S. household to purchase set-top boxes needed to make over-the-air DTV signals viewable on analog sets. Although industry experts predict that most DTV converter boxes will retail in the range of $50 to $70, EchoStar intends to market its new “TR-40” set top box as a loss leader in hopes of upselling potential new customers on DBS services. The TR-40, to debut in March at a retail price of $39.99, will include a seven-day electronic program guide, program search capabilities, VCR auto-tune timers, and parental controls. EchoStar will also offer a more expensive version, the TR-50, which will feature a digital video recorder. (The TR-50, however, will not qualify for the NTIA coupon program.) Observing, “if we’re successful, we can free up digital spectrum for all America,” EchoStar Chairman Charlie Ergen proclaimed: “there’s no reason the digital transition can’t take place in February 2009, and there’s no reason it’ll cost the consumer a dime.”
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EchoStar to market free DTV converter box
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