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Rush on DTV-Converter-Box Coupons: More than 1M Requested

Digital-TV converter-box-coupon orders are already growing like those McDonald’s hamburger tallies.

More than 500,000 people requested more than 1 million $40 coupons toward the purchase of DTV-to-analog converters in the first 40 or so hours of the program, according to National Telecommunications & Information Administration spokesman Todd Sedmak.

The requests were coming from every state in the union, according to Sedmak, and almost all were applying for the maximum two coupons per household. Owners of analog-only TVs receiving over-the-air signals will need converter boxes to receive a TV picture starting Feb. 18, 2009.

With the NTIA given enough money by Congress to subsidize a total of 33.5 million coupons, this means that if the furious pace were maintained, all of the coupons could be spoken for almost before the first ones hit viewers' mailboxes at the end of February.

But once the number exceeds 22.25 million coupons, the NTIA will have to dip into a second pool of money for the rest and limit them to only households that do not subscribe to multichannel-video services like cable or satellite.

That million-plus total was from online and phone orders. No requests have been received via snail mail yet, Sedmak said, and there were no figures on any faxed orders to date.

There is a message at the end of the ordering process informing viewers that the coupons will not be mailed until Feb. 17. That is one year before the DTV switch date and a date on which acting NTIA chief Meredith Atwell Baker told B&C she is confident that there will be converter boxes on store shelves (retailer participation is encouraged, but not mandatory).

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.