NTIA Gets Access To DTV Funds; Coupons to Flow Next Week

Posted at 2:35 p.m.

The DTV Countdown: Continuing Coverage of the DTV Transition

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration now has access to funding to help unclog the DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program.

"We apportioned these funds earlier this week; coupons will start being received next week," confirmed an OMB official.

The $40 coupons, up to two per household, allow analog over-the-air TV's to display a digital signal. Over a third of TV stations have now gone all digital after more than 400 pulled the plug on the original DTV hard date of 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 four 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 FCC expenses associated with educating consumers about and administering the move of the hard date. Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps had said the commission had enough to handle the initial Feb. 17, 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 Barack 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, it will give priority to households that rely on over-the-air analog TV service. The bill that moved the hard date also allowed everyone whose coupons had expired to reapply for them, 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.

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.