Gov’t Clearing DTV Coupon Waiting List, Millions Still Not Ready

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The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has announced it has started work on clearing its waitlist of more than 4.1 million requests for $40 coupons to offset the cost of digital television converters. Although the United States has largely put off its digital television transition until June 12, 2009, millions of households that depend on over-the-air broadcasts still aren’t ready to receive DTV signals—meaning they’ll lose TV service once analog broadcasts cease.

The NTIA says it expects to work through the existing coupon waitlist in two to three weeks; the 4.1 milion requests represent more than 2.3 million households who aren’t ready for the DTV conversion. However, while the NTIA is shipping waitlisted coupons, it has not started accepting requests to issue replacement coupons to households whose coupons have expired. And, of course, the agency is urging coupon recipients to use them promptly.

Some government estimates indicate as many a 5 million s U.S. households aren’t ready for the digital TV transition, with vulnerable groups like the elderly and poor disproportionately represented in that number. Even some analog TV users who have obtained $40 coupons have been put off by the cost of DTV converters—while some converters do cost only around $40, many retailers are stocking $60 and $80 units because they offer higher profit margins. And even when some households get a DTV converter, they’re finding they need to reposition or replace existing television antennas.

Roughly a third of the 1,800 full-power television stations converted to DTV on the original transition date of February 17, 2009, although those stations only reach about 15 percent of U.S. households. The federal government received fewer calls than expected from those stations switching over to digital broadcasts, but still expects to handle more than 3 million calls about transitioning to digital television by June 12.

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