Washington – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said Tuesday it will begin mailing out digital TV converter box coupons to consumers who have applied for them, beginning on Feb. 17, 2008.
The administration will begin accepting applications for the coupons on Jan. 1, 2008 through March 31, 2009. Consumers can apply for coupons by calling 1-888-DTV-2009, or by registering online at www.dtv2009.gov.
Coupons will be mailed to U.S. households that have applied for them beginning on Feb. 17, 2008.
Under procedures spelled out in the congressionally mandated converter box program, U.S. households will be eligible to apply for up to two converter box coupons worth $40 each. Box prices are expected to range between $59.95 and $69.95 before the coupon. Coupons will be valid for 90 days after they are issued.
Coupons can be redeemed at NTIA-certified consumer electronics retailers for a set-top TV tuner with a built-in digital-to-analog signal converter, which will enable users to continue receiving over-the-air (OTA) broadcast signals after analog TV broadcasts are switched off on Feb. 17, 2009.
The NTIA said that it has certified over 100 retailers to date, including small stores, retail chains and national retail accounts, totaling over 14,000 brick and mortar storefronts and online dealers.
National accounts certified for the program to date include: Best Buy, Circuit City, Kmart, Radio Shack, Sam’s Club, Sears, Target and Wal-mart. Retailers may continue to be certified in the program through March 31, 2008.
The program has received funding for approximately 33.5 million coupons. Each household will be eligible for up to two converter box coupons, and only one coupon can be used per box.
Only homes with TV sets that rely on OTA broadcasts to receive programming will be eligible. Homes with sets connected to cable, satellite or telco TV services will not need a converter to continue receiving programming after the analog TV broadcasting cutoff date.
There will be approximately 22.25 million coupons available in the first wave of the program that starts Jan. 1, 2008, the NTIA said. All U.S. households with TV sets that rely on OTA broadcasts will be eligible to apply. These can be homes with secondary sets receiving OTA broadcasts and primary sets connected to cable or satellite TV service.
The second wave of the coupon program, if it is needed, will involve 11.25 million coupons that will become available as needed. These will only be open to households that receive OTA broadcasts, exclusively.
The NTIA has said it expects between 10 and 26 million TVs in the U.S. to require converter boxes. The NTIA cited Consumer Electronics Association estimates that said there are approximately 13 million OTA households in the United States.
Following focus group studies, which found that some consumers find the term DTV (for digital TV) confusing, the NTIA said it has officially changed the name of the converter box coupon program to the “TV Converter Box Coupon Program.”
The NTIA, through its contracted agent IBM, is certifying eligible set-top converter boxes. The list to date includes two boxes from DigitalStream, a Magnavox and a Philco box (both from Philips), and a Zenith box (from LG Electronics). More are being tested now.
Education and outreach efforts has included about $1 billion in private sector support, with much of that amount coming from areas most directly affected by the DTV transition. Participating organizations include: the National Association of Broadcasters, the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Community service and government organizations are also contributing to the outreach and education effort, the NTIA said.
“The NTIA is focusing its consumer education on the vulnerable communities that rely on over the air broadcasting,” said Meredith Baker, acting NTIA administrator. “This includes: the elderly consumers, the rural populations, people with disabilities, and the economically disadvantaged and minorities.”
The NTIA is working with 14 federal agencies and over 130 trusted intermediary groups to form partnerships to educate the communities. These include the American Library Association, the NAACP and the Native American Journalists Association.