The National Telecommunications and Information Administration ("NTIA") now has made available the coupons for consumers to use to buy converter boxes that will allow analog television sets to pick up the digital signals of television stations. We have written about the NTIA program before, here. Digital signals are now available in most markets, and these signals will be the only signals available from full power television stations after the February 17, 2009 digital conversion deadline. The coupons, valued at $40, will be available until they run out (and, by most estimates, Congress has not appropriated enough money for every household to get coupons). They are available to any household regardless of financial need, but can be used only to buy certain very simple converter boxes to convert over-the-air digital transmissions to analog so that the digital programs can be seen on analog television sets that are not hooked up to cable or satellite (cable and satellite systems will provide signals that will not need the use of these boxes). The NTIA has a very helpful website, here, to explain the coupon program. The applications for the coupons are available here.
Any household can apply for up to two coupons. Coupons cannot be aggregated to buy a single box – so the multiple coupons will only be of use to households with more than one set that is not connected to cable or satellite. As set forth on the NTIA site, the boxes are expected to cost between $50 and $70, so the coupon will not completely cover the cost of the box. What is perhaps most interesting is that, even though the applications for the coupons can be filed now, the coupons will not be sent out for another month or two, as there are no boxes yet available in local retail outlets.
As we wrote in our earlier post on the subject, the NTIA had to approve all retailers who would be part of the coupon program because of concerns with fraud and other potential problems. That process was only completed, as the NTIA only last month approved a list of retailers who can process the coupons and sell the approved converter boxes. The list of approved retailers is available here, with retailers ranging from stores with a single location to huge retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, Sears, Circuit City and Best Buy.
The converter boxes should immediately allow analog televisions sets to access multicast streams of digital programs that analog sets cannot now receive. So get those coupons now (or at least apply for them now), before they are all gone, and become part of the digital conversion.