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NTIA Officially Announces Viewers Can Reapply for Converter Box Coupons That Expired

As reported earlier by B&C, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration announced Tuesday that viewers can now reapply for their expired DTV-to-analog converter box subsidy coupons--up to two, $40 coupons per household.

NTIA also said that by the middle of next week, all 4 million coupon requests that had been on a waiting list should have been filled.

So far, NTIA has spent about $190 million to clear out that waiting list and start allowing viewers to reapply for coupons that had expired. The agency has also modified the system to cut the time for getting the coupons after requesting them from three weeks to nine days, and is ready to prioritize requests from over-the-air households if another waiting list is necessary.

NTIA got $650 million in the economic stimulus package. Of that, $90 million can be used for outreach, including money for the FCC to continue its boots-on-the-ground assistance in local markets and its call center effort, and another $70 million for administrative costs, leaving $490 million for the coupons, of which NTIA has used 39% so far.

Acting NTIA chief Anna Gomezand and Dr. Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, associate administrator of NTIA's Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications, who held a press conference Tuesday to talk about the program, were asked whether they thought the program could run out of money again. Gomez said NTIA would focus on analog-only households unprepared for the transition and, if need be, create another waiting list and prioritize those households if there was a surge and possibility they might reach their funding limit.

If all 17 million-plus expired coupon requests were reapplied for, it would take more than $680 million to fill them.

NTIA's news, telegraphed by the National Association of Broadcasters earlier Tuesday, comes two days before the House Communications, Technology & Internet subcommittee is scheduled to hold an oversight hearing on the state of the DTV transition.

Asked about the possibility of a downloadable coupon, McGuire-Rivera said that based on research they had done so far, "that doesn't seem like a mechanism that would be widely used by [the 4 million unready analog-only homes] that might not justify whatever cost it would be to set that up."

She said that NTIA was looking at other ways to get to that group, at least to inform them better. And while seniors remain a target population, it turns out young people need help, too. "We discovered in our research there are a lot of young families, young people, 18-34," said McGuire-Rivera. "They seem to text a lot. We're looking at that as maybe a way to get to them."