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NTIA Sends Converter Box Rules To OMB

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration has sent its digital-to-analog converter-box rules to the Office of Management and Budget.

Administration agencies have to vet the rules to make sure they come within budget--in this case a maximum of $1.5 billion--and square with congressional intent in creating the program.

The final rules will likely  be released in six weeks to three months--which is the maximum number of days.  The rules will provide "eligibility requirements, application procedures, and guidance on the use, value, and restrictions of the coupons" according to OMB. It will also include specifications on what kind of box will be eligible.

The converter box program is to make sure that viewers with analog TV's still have access to TV signals after the switch-over to digital broadcasting Feb. 18, 2009.

NTIA has not said what it concluded in the final rules now being vetted, but it proposed that the program, in which $40 coupons toward the boxes are distributed to consumers, be eligible only to analog-only households and on a first come, first served basis. That approach would exclude analog-only sets in cable or satellite households and could mean that the money runs out before everyone who needs a box gets one.

It has also proposed having the coupons expire within three months of either mailing or receipt, and has talked about both a paper and electronic version of the coupon.

Some in Congress are concerned that unless the program includes all affected viewers, they could face a constituent revolt, while others worry about the possibility of mismanagement or abuse of the subsidy program if it is too large or open ended.