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Gutierrez: Nursing Homes, P.O. Boxes to Get Coupons

Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez announced Tuesday that residents of nursing homes and folks with post-office boxes rather than individual mailing addresses will be eligible for digital-TV-to-analog converter-box-subsidy coupons.

P.O. box holders can apply for two $40 coupons, just as regular households can, but nursing-home residents will get a special form and only one coupon per resident, a National Telecommunications and Information Administration spokesman said.

The NTIA proposed making the change to its original definition of an eligible home, which had been based on the Census Bureau definition.

"Allowing nursing-home residents and households who rely on a post-office box for their mail to request coupons helps those most in need to make the switch to digital television," Gutierrez said. "Ensuring that no one is left behind is our top priority, and I encourage those who need a coupon to apply soon and buy a converter box when their coupon arrives in the mail."

Residents of nursing homes and assisted-living and intermediate-care facilities will have to provide their name and the address of the facility, as well as whether they receive TV over the air or through some other means. Family members or friends can apply for one coupon for a resident, but it will be mailed to the facility. There will be a separate form for those residents once the rule becomes effective, but only one box per request, the thinking being that they won't need more than one.

Applicants with a P.O. box will be able to request two coupons, but they "must provide their physical residence in addition to their post-office-box number." The NTIA has been concerned from the outset about waste, fraud and abuse.

That news from Gutierrez came the same day NTIA acting chief Meredith Attwell Baker assured Congress that change was in the works.

Actually, the change won't be official for another few weeks. A source said the rule change will be published in the Federal Register this week, and would then go into effect 30 days after that. But that would be about right, given the 3-4 weeks it takes to get the coupons.

The carve-out does not include prisons, an NTIA spokesman said. That issue was raised by at least one warden, according to press reports, who said he was told that the coupons only go to households and that he tried, without success, to claim his prison as "the Big House."

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.