Congressmen blast DTV efforts

Two key members of Congress have charged that the government program designed to oversee the transition to DTV has been mismanaged and is running out of money.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the Department of Commerce, controls a $1.5 billion program to distribute $40 coupons to help consumers pay for the converter boxes they will need to continue watching analog TVs.

Last year, the NTIA awarded IBM a $120 million contract to perform administrative duties for the program, including taking coupon orders and mailing them to consumers. But the IBM contract does not include enough funds to process and mail the recycled coupons to consumers, according to a letter sent to the NTIA by Democrat Reps. John D. Dingell, MI, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, and Edward J. Markey, MA, chairman of the committee’s telecommunications and Internet panel.

The letter asked sharp questions about how the error occurred and how much it will cost to fix. “The NTIA’s apparent lack of planning is a serious oversight, one that they must correct promptly and without dipping into the funds marked to help consumers purchase converter boxes,” Markey said.

IBM’s contract calls for the distribution of 33.5 million coupons, and they expire after 90 days. Unredeemed coupons are supposed to be redistributed to other households. The contract does not account for the costs associated with recycling unredeemed coupons but does cover administrative expenses.

The NTIA said it is looking into whether it can reissue coupons to households that let their initial coupons expire. Several lawmakers have asked the agency to do so, but it is unclear whether the law allows NTIA to issue more than two coupons to any household.