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NTIA’s Kneuer: Converter-Box Program Is Fine as-Is

National Telecommunications & Information Administration head John Kneuer, the executive in charge of overseeing the digital-TV converter-box-subsidy program said there should be enough coupons to go around and a major change proposed Tuesday by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) is not needed.

As the subsidy now stands, $990 million will go toward the cost of up to two coupons worth $40 apiece toward converters (only one coupon per converter) for each household, with another available for analog-only households if necessary.

Kohl proposed switching that around, with the first money going to the over-the-air-only households and, only after they were taken care of, opening it up to all homes, including those with cable or satellite service who would only need the boxes for sets not hooked up to those services.

Doesn't that switch in priorities make sense, Kneuer was asked Wednesday at a press conference to mark the upcoming 500th day (Oct. 6) until the DTV switch Feb. 17, 2009. He said no.

"I think that if you look at the legislative history and the record we developed in our public notice and comment to develop these rules, it was clear that the intent of Congress was that this was going to be a transition that was going to have huge impact across consumers and, so, we wanted to have the eligibility commensurate with the impacted parties,” he said.

"By having the second phase of eligibility with the second $500 million," reserved for over-the-air only households, he added, "we maximize the likelihood that no household that would otherwise lose a signal will go without financial assistance if they want it."