The NTIA has now committed its full $1.34B allotted for converter box coupons, even though not nearly that much has actually been claimed. But it will either need more cash or new rules to keep the coupon program up and running. According to reports, an estimated 8M television households rely solely on over-the-air broadcast and are currently not prepared for the 2/17/09 transition to digital broadcasting.
The coupons are good for $40 towards acquisition of a digital-to-analog converter, which allows the use of an older-model analog television set. Otherwise, the consumer would have to acquire a new digital receiver, or subscribe to a cable or satellite MVPD service. Some of the converters on the market retail for $40 or thereabouts, and range up to about $80 at the higher end.
NTIA says a flurry of requests over the holidays caused it to reach the tipping point sooner than expected. The increase was spurred by increased DTV publicity and the ever-increasing proximity to the deadline.
RBR/TVBR observation: There is of course the very real possibility that many of the coupons in circulation will never be redeemed, meaning that the $1.34B number cited does not refer to hard, cold cash. Another thing to consider is the fact that NTIA recently trumpeted the fact that coupons applied for after 12/31/08 were unlikely to make it to the requester in time. Mr. Markey, any chance of a cash infusion along with some kind of expedited delivery system?