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U.S. TV Digital Converter Box program in trouble


Program funding may not be enough

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is the branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce in charge of the program to provide digital converter boxes to consumers when television stations switch their signals from analog to digital in February 2009.

The NTIA has been advertising free government issued coupons worth $40 per consumer to subsidize the cost of make the digital switch for older televisions without digital capability and for those consumers who do not get signals from digital cable or satellite providers.

Apparently, the program has already received requests for more than 16 million of the $40 coupons. The NTIA program was given $1.5 billion in funding, which was to subsidize as many as 33.5 million converter boxes. The Associate Director of the NTIA, Bernadette McGuire-Rivera stated at a Congressional hearing that it was possible the agency "…would have to get more money, basically to buy more stamps to send out coupons."

"This sounds like it could be a big problem here," said Representative Edward Markey, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, at the hearing before the panel.

The coupons expire within 90 days after they are issued, and it is expected that some have already expired because those who applied for them did not use them in time. The coupons must be used at retail locations, including Wal-Mart and BestBuy, among others. NTIA figures indicate that only 42 percent of the coupons sent to consumers were being redeemed before they expired.

Last modified on 11 June 2008
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