Coupon program cutting it close


The NTIA anticipates that at the current rate of requests and redemptions, and allowing for a request spike as the DTV deadline approaches, then it will have enough digital-to-analog converter box coupons to get through the month of January 2009. And maybe a little longer. But making it all the way to the 2/17/09 finish line is in doubt.

Here is the key passage in an NTIA response to an inquiry from key House Commerce Committee members John Dingell (D-MI) and Ed Markey (D-MA): “Within our existing administrative authority, NTIA has placed orders with IBM to distribute up to 44.5 million coupons. Assuming steady demand and an increase for the months of November, December and January, as well as a redemption rate consistent with that realized to date, NTIA estimates that the Coupon Program will be able to honor requests for 44.5 million coupons through the end of January 2009 within existing administrative funds. However, NTIA may realize up to $6 million in savings over the period of this contract, which could enable it to distribute several million more coupons, possibly extending the program for several more weeks within current administrative resources.” NTIA has also been seeking permission to shift $7M from other areas to fund a shortfall in administrative costs.

RBR/TVBR observation: Congress has essentially given itself no standing to hold anybody to account. Private sector groups like the NAB and other concerned trade organizations have been doing most of the heavy lifting, while Capitol Hill has kept the amounts it has been willing to allocate to a bare minimum. Indeed, many expressed the opinion that the cash that has actually been invested was too much. It seems to us that it would have been much smarter to allocate too much, with a proviso that whatever isn’t needed could be plunged straight into debt reduction or paper clips or whatever. We suggest Congress dig up enough cash for stamps and additional coupons immediately, along with giving TV stations authority and funding to run DTV messaging on their abandoned analog channels for at least a week or to past 2/17/09. While they’re at it, Congress should spring for funding for a strong multimedia DTV campaign and – perhaps most importantly – also allocate funding for telephone banks staffed by knowledgeable post-conversion troubleshooters.