House E&C leaders admonish NTIA


“The digital television transition is now less than seven months away and millions of consumers are counting on NTIA to ensure they don’t lose their local television signals. Now, we find that NTIA has not adequately planned for reissuing expired coupons.” So says House Energy and Commerce Committee chair John Dingell (D-MI), who wants to focus on correcting the problem (while perhaps drawing some bureaucratic blood while he’s at it).

“The Committee intends to determine whether and where there have been shortcomings in the administration of this program,” dingell added, “why they were allowed to occur, who was involved and, most importantly, how these problems will be corrected without penalizing consumers.”

Dingell’s colleague, Ed Markey (D-MA), added, “The coupon program is the key to ensuring that consumers who rely on analog over-the-air TV signals are not left in the dark come next February. The NTIA has long been aware that redistributing expired coupons in a timely fashion would be key to ensuring everyone who needs a coupon receives one. The NTIA’s apparent lack of planning is a serious oversight, one that they must correct promptly and without dipping into the funds marked to help consumers purchase converter boxes.”

RBR/TVBR observation: This could be a mess. NTIA started sending out coupons before converter boxes were available in many places, according to several member of Congress, making it impossible to use the coupon. Meanwhile, the 90-day expiration date was ticking down. It was there in the first place on the retail-oriented theory that if there is no deadline, consumers will wait forever to use it or forget completely. Meanwhile, the NTIA has been budgeted so tightly that it’s testified it doesn’t have enough cash for postage to mail out renewed coupons.

However, in defense of NTIA and the FCC, neither has been given any room for error. Maybe NTIA could have thought this out better, but it’s not like we embark on a DTV transition every year. Of course there are going to be miscalculations and missteps. Congress needs to inject some more cash into this process, for operations, for advertising and promotion, and to have on hand for any other unforeseen problems.