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Stimulus Package Has $650 Million For DTV Coupons

According to an outline of the elements of the economic stimulus package--specifically the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009--the legislation contains $650 million dollars in extra funding for the DTV-to-analog converter box program.

There is also $6 billion in broadband and wireless grants to boost the rollout of Internet access to underserved areas, which will create business and job opportunities to boost the economy.

President-elect Barack Obama made the rollout of broadband a key to the economic stimulus package, and more recently the transition team pledged to add funding for the DTV transition as well.

Under the heading of "Transforming Our Economy with Science and Technology, the summary, from the House Appropriations Committee, lists "$650 million to continue the coupon program to enable American households to convert from analog television transmission to digital transmission."

But with the economic package not expected to pass until February, Congress will likely have to do something before then to get the coupons flowing again. Currently there are separate bills in both the House and Senate Commerce Committees that would boost funding for the coupon program and move the Feb. 17, 2009 transition date, if necessary.

There are more than 2 million coupons on the waiting list (from 1.2 million households), with the government out of money to distribute any new ones except when old ones expire.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez has called on Congress to fix the accounting prohibition on sending out coupons, arguing that will obviate the need for moving the date. But the leaders in both the House and Senate Commerce Committees are believed to have scrapped that idea as too little, too late, deciding instead they need to either get more funding now or change the date, or both.

President-elect Barack Obama praised the House’s progress on the stimulus package.

"I am pleased that the House of Representatives has acted with urgency on an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will save or create over three million jobs, provide tax relief to struggling families and businesses that create jobs, and invest in priorities like health care, education, and energy that will make America strong and competitive in the 21st century,” he said in a statement. 

“This plan is a significant down-payment on our most urgent challenges, and it will contain the kind of strict, independent oversight that will allow the American people to hold Washington accountable for how and where their tax dollars are spent,” he said.

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.