NTIA to Tap DTV Funds

3/08/2009 9:04 AM Eastern

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration last week got access to funding to help unclog the digital-to-analog TV-converter coupon program.

“We apportioned these funds earlier this week; coupons will start being received next week,” confirmed an OMB official to Multichannel News, later confirmed by NTIA.

The $40 coupons, up to two per household, support the purchase of converters to enable analog over-the-air TV sets to display a digital signal.

Over one-third of TV stations have now gone all-digital after more than 400 changed over on the original DTV transition date: Feb. 17.

The Obama administration set aside $650 million in the economic-stimulus package to be used primarily to allow NTIA to start sending out converter box coupons to fill over 4 million requests on its waiting list. That list was created after NTIA ran up against a funding ceiling in early January.

Another $90 million is for DTV education and Federal Communications Commission expenses associated with educating consumers and administering the date change, so the agency will be happy to have that money as well.

Acting FCC chairman Michael Copps had said the agency had enough to handle the initial Feb. 17 transition, but not enough for the intervening months until June 12, the new hard date.

It was NTIA’s much-publicized waiting list that helped prompt then President-elect Obama to call for moving the DTV hard date from Feb. 17 to June 12. Republicans had countered that simply fixing the accounting problem rather than allocating more money could have sufficed.

NTIA has said it will take two to three weeks to clear up the backlog of requests, but that if there is a rush on requests that create another backlog — which it does not expect — it will give priority to households that relay on over-the-air analog TV service.

The bill that moved the hard date also allowed everyone whose coupons had expired to reapply, irrespective of the reason for the expiration or whether they were from an analog-only home or one that was getting TV from cable or satellite. But NTIA said last week it would not be able to start processing re-applications for another week or so.

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