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Digital Converter Box Coupons All Gone

5 Jan, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

With 43 days left before analog television is shut down in the United States, the coupon funding for digital converter boxes is gone, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced Jan. 5.

NTIA has spent all $1.34 billion Congress allocated it to spend on $40 customer coupons toward the purchase of a converter box, and Americans who are still using antennas to get their TV will now have to wait in line before they can get a coupon. The news means some consumers may have to shell out the full funds for a converter box, or see their TV stop accepting broadcasting on Feb. 17.

Meredith Attwell Baker, acting assistant secretary and administrator for the NTIA, faced tough questions from the media in a conference call Jan. 5, asking how the NTIA could have so badly underestimated how many coupons would be needed. In December alone, the NTIA had requests for 7.2 million coupons, when the administration was only expecting requests for 4.3 million. In October there were 3.9 million coupon requests, and in November there were 4.9 million.

“We saw a massive spike in coupon requests in the past six weeks,” Baker said. “… It was a larger number than we would have ever predicted. We’re waiting for Congress to explore all the available options.”

Until either Congress gives NTIA more funding, or unused coupons already allocated expire (each coupon expires after 90 days), new requests will be handled on a first-come, first-serve basis. The waiting list is already more than 103,000, Baker said.

Current redemption rate is about 50%, she added, with 13 million coupons expired and 18 million redeemed, out of 44 million requested.

Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) has introduced legislation asking Congress to give consumers more money toward the boxes. Each American household can order two of the $40 coupons.

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