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NTIA Wants to Tap Administrative Funds

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is asking Congress for access to more administrative funds to be able to send out more digital-TV-to-analog converter-box coupons if necessary.

The NTIA thinks that might be necessary given that it is getting about 110,000 coupon requests per day, with a redemption rate of 49%.

The NTIA said it will not use more that the total $1.5 billion allocated to the program, which was divided into $160 million for administrative expenses and $1.34 billion to cover the value of the coupons -- $40 apiece, up to two per eligible household.

So far, only about one-half of the coupons requested are being redeemed, and when they expire after 90 days, that money then goes back into that $1.34 billion pot.

To have the money to administer the reissuing of coupons -- technically the issuing of coupons made possible by the additional money -- the NTIA wants to tap into that $1.34 billion, since it now estimates that it will only need about $1 billion of that.

The NTIA is asking for $7 million to be freed up for administrative funds, with an option to get more if it needs it.

The request came one day before NTIA acting chief Meredith Attwell Baker is scheduled to testify before a House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, including facing some legislators who had complained there were not enough funds to administer reissuing the coupons.

The NTIA made the formal request for the change in the DTV-converter-box-program-funding legislation, which was part of the Deficit Reduction Act, in a letter to Senate president and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

The NTIA is also still awaiting the Office of Management and Budget's vetting of its proposed rule change to allow Post Office boxes and nursing homes to qualify as eligible residences for the coupons. They were not eligible when the original program was set up because households were based on the Census Bureau definition.