F. Manufacturer Certification
96. In the NPRM, NTIA proposed that manufacturers self-certify that their CECBs meet NTIA’s performance specifications and reserved the right to test CECBs that have been self-certified to ensure that they meet NTIA’s technical eligibility requirements.[ 155 ] NTIA sought comment on this proposal and other compliance testing and verification procedures that could be used for the Coupon Program.
97. Several commenting parties referred to the FCC’s well-established three-tiered approach for Equipment Authorization.[ 156 ] Most supported NTIA’s proposal that, after successful testing, manufacturers self-certify that their CECBs meet the NTIA eligibility features and functionality; some recommended that the manufacturer’s test results be submitted to a third party for an independent level of review.[ 157 ] Most parties felt that “certification,” the most stringent level of FCC technical approval, applicable to new technology, computers, cell phones and other non-television products, was inapplicable to CECBs. Motorola said that a third-party certification process would decrease the amount of time available for product development and would increase the costs of bringing the device to market.[ 158 ] RadioShack opposed government testing of each model certified as it would burden manufacturers and delay product introduction.[ 159 ]
98. Most commenters supported an approval process proposed by the Joint Industry Comments, termed “verification plus.” The Joint Industry Comments stated the following:
Rather than developing a new and untested conformity assessment program, the Joint Industry Commenters urge that NTIA leverage the existing resources of the FCC, the longstanding expert agency in this area, to conduct an efficient and accurate conformity assessment process. Specifically, NTIA should adopt a “verification plus” process, based on the FCC’s present, well-established and well-understood verification procedures. Under these procedures, manufacturers would be responsible for conducting compliance testing at their own facilities or through an independent laboratory contracted by the manufacturer. This process would ensure efficiency and avoid delays that would occur if the FCC or any other third-party entity were required independently to test every converter box. To ensure the integrity of the program, however, the FCC, most likely through its Office of Engineering and Technology, should have the ability to be involved in the approval process before the devices are released to market. To this end, manufacturers should be required to submit their test results, along with appropriate samples of the tested equipment, to the FCC. The FCC should then review test results to ensure conformity between the converter boxes and the NTIA’s performance standards which themselves are based on standards endorsed by or known to the FCC. If the FCC does not alert NTIA and the manufacturer of any problem within 15 days of when the data were submitted, the device should automatically qualify for the program. If the FCC does issue notification of a problem, however, it should expedite its own testing and rapidly notify NTIA and the manufacturer of any noncompliance.[ 160 ]
99. NTIA will adopt the FCC’s verification process as the core of its technical
acceptance plan to identify CECBs. As noted, several stakeholders in the Coupon Program, including manufacturers, retailers and broadcasters, support this proposal. This approval process will not unduly burden manufacturers and will not add significant costs or delay to the development and production of CECBs.
100. NTIA believes it is not procedurally sound for converters to become “automatically” eligible for the Coupon Program without agency confirmation. While manufacturers may market any converter or other device including digital-to-analog decoding functionality outside of the Coupon Program, NTIA intends to use a central electronic tracking database to track retailers’ point-of-sale (POS) transactions including authorization of coupon redemptions and sales data of CECBs.[ 161 ] Action is required, therefore, by NTIA to load and update eligibility data (e.g., product SKU) for each model approved by NTIA.
101. Therefore, the Final Rule requires manufacturers to conduct tests or have independent laboratories conduct tests to demonstrate that each converter model meets the features and performance specifications set forth in our regulations for CECBs. It also requires manufacturers to provide detailed certified test results along with a sample of the tested equipment to NTIA and its designee. NTIA has entered into an agreement with the FCC by which the FCC may review the manufactures' converter box test results submitted to NTIA. The FCC may test converter boxes, if necessary. NTIA will base its decision to approve each converter box upon its consultation with the FCC. A Public Notice will be published subsequent to issuance of the Final Rule to provide manufacturers with specific address and contact information regarding the required submission of these materials. NTIA will record the date test results and sample models are received and will notify the manufacturer of the date by which the agency intends to make a determination of eligibility. In general, NTIA will attempt to ensure that the review of test results and any additional testing are completed within the 15-day period proposed by the Joint Industry Comments. As promptly as possible, NTIA will issue a statement of eligibility or non-eligibility for each converter model submitted by a manufacturer. The agency will attempt to meet demand, although the pacing of manufacturer submissions may be uneven. Because it is impossible to determine at this time how many manufacturers will submit test results and equipment, whether multiple models will be built by each manufacturer, and when converters will be proposed for inclusion in the Coupon Program, NTIA must allow flexibility to establish the appropriate time frame for agency review. As noted above, NTIA will promptly include make and model number information in its POS data, consumer education materials and other files used to identify CECBs.
102. Finally, NTIA reserves the right to test CECBs. As an additional means to ensure that converters made available to the public as part of the Coupon Program meet NTIA’s technical specifications, NTIA may select converters to test at any time during the course of the Coupon Program. If a converter box appears not to meet NTIA's technical specifications, NTIA will follow a process similar to that used by the FCC in consulting with the manufacturer. If a converter box model is subsequently found not to meet the features and performance specifications set forth in the Final Rule, that model will no longer be eligible for the Coupon Program.
[ 155 ] NPRM, 71 Fed. Reg. at 42,070.
[ 156 ] “Verification” or self-certification; “Declaration of Conformity” which requires testing by third-party laboratories selected from an accredited list; and “Certification” under which the FCC itself tests products prior to approval. The procedures are described at http://www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/procedures.html#sec1.
[ 157 ] Thomson Comment at 7; LG Comments at 10; CERC Comments at 10-11; Funai Comments at 12-13.
[ 158 ] Motorola Comments at 2.
[ 159 ] RadioShack Comments at 21.
[ 160 ] Joint Industry Comments at 21-22.
[ 161 ] Letter from Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at 3 (coupon program should be designed so that retailers can provide updated information concerning the inventory of converter boxes in order to remedy supply difficulties promptly).