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Commerce Dept: 62% of Over-Air Households Requested Converter Box

The Commerce Department said Monday that 62% of TV households that rely entirely on over-the-air television have requested coupons from the DTV-to-analog converter box program.

That news came as Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which oversees the coupon program, joined with broadcasters, the FCC and others to mark 100 days until the Feb. 17, 2009 transition to full-power digital TV.

“The Coupon Program is successful and very popular with 17 million households requesting more than 33.5 million coupons and redeeming 13.5 million of them, to date,” said Acting NTIA head Meredith Baker in released that latest tall. So far, 10.5 million coupons have expired, and 13.5 million have been redeemed, which leaves 9.5 million of that 33.5 million still in circulation and not part of the redemption rate calculation.

But that also means that the redemption rate is only about 50%. One answer may be that they applied for the maximum two coupons per household but only needed one, and some folks have likely bought the boxes without requesting coupons. Another is that they decided instead to buy a digital TV or sign up for cable or satellite.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said that redemptoin rate is actually not low. "It's actually a pretty high number for a high-value coupon where people actually request it," he says.

NTIA says that in 172 of the nation's 210 markets, over 50% of the over-the-air-only households have applied for the coupons, with 45 markets boasting a 75% coupon-application rate among over-the-air households.

NTIA is encouraging everyone to apply for their coupons by the end of the year so they can buy and try the converter boxes before the big day.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said Monday that he expected the NTIA would have enough money to cover the remaining coupons requests, and Baker added that NTIA would stay in contact with Congress just in case. Baker also said she would stay on at NTIA as long as she was needed during the transition to a new administration.