DTV Converter Coupon Program Hits Snag

Federal officials told lawmakers this week they“re running out of postage for the DTV converter coupon program. Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, associate director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, told the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications that the program needed more money, "basically to buy more stamps," for sending out coupons, according to Reuters.

Congress authorized $1.5 billion for the program two years ago when it passed the DTV deadline bill. The money, pulled out of the resulting television spectrum auction proceeds, was allocated in two payments; the first one totaling $990 million (less $100 million administrative costs, including postage); the second one, $510 million, (less $60 million admin).

The program was intended to subsidize digital reception devices for legacy analog TV sets. Congress set up parameters, instructing the NTIA to send up to two $40 coupons per household based on first-come, first serve, requests. The same bill also set an expiration time period of 90 days from date of issue.

Therein lay the snag. Of the 15.4 million coupons mailed out by the NTIA, more than half have already expired. (That“s $337,206 at first-class flat rates—albeit not government bulk rates.) Another 11.3 million have yet to be redeemed.

As many as 20 million TV households rely exclusively on over-the-air television, according to the Government Accountability Office. Some Washington lobbies put the number at closer to 11 million. The reality is, no one knows for sure, and the requests keep pouring in at the NTIA at a rate of around 700,000 per week.

Of the initial $890 million dedicated for the $40 coupons, $638 million has been spent. Because two disbursements were initially approved, the NTIA isn“t requesting money that hasn“t already been allocated to the program.