Converter Box Program Still Backed Up

More than a third of TV stations have pulled the plug on full-power analog, and more could start to do so within the next two-and-a-half-weeks, but the coupon program remains backed up.

At press time, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration's DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program still did not have the money it needed to free up its growing waiting list-4.3 million applications at last count-though it was still looking for word to come any time.

"We still do not have access to the funding," said NTIA spokesman Bart Forbes. "There is nothing new to report at this time."

Just last week on C-SPAN's Communicators series, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said that the coupon program "is up and running again."

The program has been running, but at a snail's pace, with coupons sent out only when other coupons expire. NTIA can't start sending out the coupons en masse until it get's access to the $650 million set aside for that purpose in the economic stimulus package, and it can't get that access until the Office of Management and Budget gives it the go-ahead. The OMB press office had not returned several calls for comment on the status of that go-ahead.

Getting the waiting list cleared up was a driving force behind moving the DTV hard date from Feb. 17 to June 12.

President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on, appropriately enough, Feb. 17, with NTIA expecting OMB to sign off in about a week.

NTIA has said it will prioritize coupon requests for analog-only households if, once the money is freed up, there is any further slowdown in distribution due to the volume of requests. NTIA has said it will take two-three weeks to clear up the current backlog.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.