News

Digital TV Coupon Program Runs Out of Money

In a new challenge to the digital TV transition, the government’s program offering $40 coupons for TV converter boxes is out of money, weeks sooner than anyone expected.

The Department of Commerce today announced that it has committed the entire $1.34 billion available for the coupons and is starting to put new requests on a waiting list.

It was just two weeks ago that Meredith Atwell Baker, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, warned U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s telecom panel, that the $1.5 billion set aside for the coupon program might run short of requests.

That wasn’t expected to happen immediately. A blitz of media stories over the Christmas holidays, however, brought in a flood of requests.

Ms. Atwell Baker had warned Mr. Markey that although a third or more of coupons haven’t been redeemed, the way the program is structured could force it to delay sending out new coupons.

The government sets aside money for any coupons issued during the 90 days they can be redeemed; Ms. Atwell Baker's worry was that the agency might have to temporarily stop issuing new coupons.

At a news conference this afternoon, Ms. Atwell Baker suggested the coupon program was a victim of its own success. She cited a “massive spike” in December that brought requests for 7.2 million coupons rather than for the 4.3 million that NTIA expected.

She also speculated that the economy could be affecting the number requested, with more consumers choosing to use converter boxes rather than buying new DTV-ready TVs.

Ms. Atwell Baker said NTIA began keeping its waiting list Sunday, and already there are 103,000 coupon requests on the list. Instead of getting a coupon, consumers on the list will be notified there will be a delay.

Through Feb. 11, about 351,000 coupons are expected to expire unused each week, and the same number then can be issued.

Because more consumers applied for coupons in November and December, the number that will expire later in February and March also will grow, but that will come after the Feb. 17 DTV transition.

Ms. Atwell Baker said that while she’s in touch with Congress and the incoming Obama administration, there has been no formal request for additional money.

New Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the NTIA's announcement "simply astounding."

"The change to digital television is just weeks away, and today we learn that the Bush Administration’s approach to nickel-and-dime efforts aimed at making this conversion easier on consumers is flat broke. NTIA has known for months and months that the coupon program needed hundreds of millions more in funding to make sure that every American can get the digital television transition assistance they need. The failure to protect consumers is simply astounding."

He added, “Congress must act to safeguard consumers in the weeks leading up to and after the digital transition. Doing nothing is not an option.”

As of the end of 2008, the government had issued 41.9 million coupons to 24.1 million households. Of that amount, 18 million coupons have been redeemed.

(Editor: Baumann)
(2:20 p.m.: Updated with statement from Sen. Jay Rockefeller)

Comments (29)

EmmGee-Ohio:

""The change to digital television is just weeks away"... I hate to say that some stations have... take WBGU-27, Bowling Green, OH.... They have changed on 12/15/08. Then, let's not forget Hawaii in 10 days from now.

Ira, the unknown person being interviewed... Hate to tell you.... IT'S HERE NOW.

"NTIA has known for months and months that the coupon program needed hundreds of millions more in funding to make sure that every American can get the digital television transition assistance they need. The failure to protect consumers is simply astounding."

I heard it was going broke about 1 year ago...I thought they asked congress for more money... but it didn't go anywhere, dut to congress being a welfare state for banks at that time... well for Barney Frank's "Boy toy" at Fannie Mae.

So, yes they knew, but things didn't go anywhere, due to timing and current events that were ensuing.

Renita:

I am looking for the digital tv coupon discount
can you send to me?I need 2

Leslie K. McKinsey:

I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE AT LEAST ONE CERTIFICATE TO GET A CONVERTER BOX. FOR MY KITCHEN TV, SINCE ITS NOT HOOKED UP TO A SATELITE AND I DON'T PLAN ON BUYING A DIGITAL SINCE MY TV IS ONLY THREE YEARS OLD. THANK YOU

morris:

Jeesh. After 5 years of announcements, endless PSA's over the last 6 mos, news stories, articles, and the like, I can't believe there's anyone out there that hasn't heard the message by now. If they haven't, well then maybe they're never going to hear it. The world won't end on 2/17. People will survive. And if they don't have a coupon, they'll live. $40 isn't going to break anyone, regardless of what they might say. If that's seriously the case, then they probably can't afford to be watching television to begin with.

Another Y2K like prediction of disaster that will fall flat.

Diana Garmon:

I would like to be put on the list for a coupon for this converter box.

Kay Clark:

I would like to be put on the list for the
converter box

Jessica And Kim Tran:

Please be nice and get a waiting list for the poor people.. That would be great.... Thank You

I only need ONE coupon for my only TV and beening I'm collecting unemployment I will not be able to buy a new TV
THANK YOU
RITA PERKINS

Cyndi McDaniel:

I would like to be put on the list for the converter box.

don basala:

you might want to hold off on pulling the plug for the big change-over

please put me on the list,

William Ice:

I need you to send me two coupons for the ditigal converter box. Thanks

rebecca ritchie:

I was so embarressed when I got to the check out and my coupon had expired. It was so ignorate to put a expiration date. None of the stores had started carrying these box's until recently. So my coupons never got used. I put in for another request but have been denied. Not fair

Henry Pierce:

Please put me on the list for 2 converter boxes.
Maybe they should extend this deadline it looks like a lot of people are going to be without tv.

Hand:

need two converter boxes. Why can we not get them? They shouldbe free anyway because we all pay taxes and that money pays for everything else why not boxes? Should not have to wait on a coupon to get them.

Donald Hatton:

my Dad is retierd on a fixed income & my husbond is layed of now for 4-5 mos we live on a very fixed income we only have a antana we can not aford to buy a new tv we need to cupons so we can watch tv my dad is 77yr old he likes his own tv & so do we

J alexander:

This dtv switch over is something else whether you have it or not! We are still human beings. Thank you for making the economy about the measure of money.

Novy L Carr:

I am in need of 2 Digital coupons and they are now out and I am in need of two. Please send them to me at 2165 Glen St. Martinsville, IN 46151


Thank You,

Ela Wolfla:

I like to have one coupons I dont have a cable TV

sarah tupayachi:

I would like to know where or how I go about putting my name on the list for the dtv coupons, I need 3 of them and have no idea where to start to get my nameon the list for these coupons, could you help me please? thanks

gunta kersage:

A older neighbor of mine who does not have a computeof needs 2 coupons for her tvs. How can I get them for her???

Rochelle Standberry:

My grandparents do not have cable tv. I would appreciate two of the coupons for there televisions in their home.

Karen:

How can I get put on the list? Thank you.

Kelly Turner:

Please put me on a list for two coupons. I think the cost is way too much! Without a coupon my husband & I will not even be able to watch TV-not even the news and I think it is pretty sad that everything has to cost so much and everything is changing and with change comes more money-more money, and more money!!!!
Please send to 916 Brentwood Drive/Kokomo IN 46901.

Thanks!
Kelly

Ronald poling:

I think they should go back to the old ways tv was just fine its just another way for the richer to get richer and make it harder for the poor folks to be able to enjoy anything anymore AMERICAN PEOPLE needs to start standing up for there rights again instead of laying on the backs and taking the crap that we get from the goverment and the RICH folks be TRUE AMERICANS AND STAND PROUD FIGHT FOR WHATS RIGHT.

Homer Simpson:

Judging by the dim wits' posting here requesting coupon and demonstrating they apparently can't figure out how to request the $40 coupons correctly, how could anyone expect that they will be able to figure out how to correctly hook up a converter box to their TVs? Apparently, they are TV watching zombies that need a long vacation from watching TV anyway. They bring new meaning to the phrase "Boob Tube".

steven j schmink:

i would like to be put on the list for the converter box because i need 2 of them for my slef thank you steven j schmink

Susan:

The correct answer to this problem is to allot reserve funding to the Commerce department, so that it can send out as many coupons as it needs now, expecting that a portion of them will not be used and the budget is adequate to cover most if not all of the cashed coupons. If it isn't, then the reserve fund will cover the difference.

Is the government collecting more money for the extra stations that will be available? If so, it probably needs to start broadcasting in February.

Another problem is that retail stores may have ordered these converters based on the expected numbers released from the commerce department, which means that half the coupon recipients will not be able to find converter boxes in the stores.

Get on the waiting list for a converter box at the government site DTV2009. YOu can't request one through a news article. Eventually you may get one because people who don't use their coupons and they expire, those funds will go back into the program. It may take awhile but you'll probably get it!

Lynette:

About six months ago I applied for a converter box cou
pon, they said it would come about a month before the
switch, didn't come. I tried in the middle of January,
still no sign of a coupon. I am furious about this wh
ole situation as I'm guessing many are too especially he
re in Rhode Island where spending money on cable is ju
st not possible. Further more there is no way that I k
now of to contact these people. Please if anyone knows
anymore about this please tell me and others.And also
That comment made by morris, is ridiculous, I have ante
Nnae tv and not cable, try being poor for a day morris
you'll never understand.
-Lynette

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