Converter Coupon Expired?

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell fielded questions from the public about the DTV transition Nov. 12 at Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate, WPVI-TV, including this one from Sandy.

“I thought I lost my coupons I received in the mail, but later found them in my desk drawer at work, the coupons had expired and I was told I could not get replacement, even though I told them I could send back the coupons I received. Is there a way to receive another coupon or am I just out of luck? Thanks for your help.”

McDowell: “Great question Sandy. Congress mandated that the coupons expire within 90 days. So your best recourse is to find a friend, neighbor or relative who does not need a coupon to order one for you and give it to you. Of course, if you don’t need the coupon to be able to purchase the box, you can just buy one outright. They cost as little as $40.”

Less than 100 days remain before the nation’s analog broadcast television system is shut down for good. Thus far, the federal government has mailed nearly 32 million, $40 coupons for the digital-to-analog converter boxes necessary to keep old TV sets working without cable or satellite. Of that 32 million, nearly a third have expired; 13.5 million have been redeemed, and the rest are floating around or sitting at the bottom of a drawer.

Stations have been doing dry runs for months to get folks prepared for the transition, and one of the most prevalent issues involves reception. The antennas that pulled in mostly low-VHF channels don’t necessarily do the trick for digital signals, many of which will be UHF.

One intrepid Philadelphia viewer asked McDowell if her bunny ears would work with “a newer TV that I am pretty sure is digital.” He told her to give it a try, but that she might need to buy another if the ears didn’t work.

“These can be purchased for as little as $5 in some cases,” he said, though the likelihood of finding anything other than passive rabbit ears for $5 is seriously doubtful.

Fran B. had antenna issues of her own.

“I live in Bucks City, 26 miles from the local TV transmitter.
I bought a converter box and with an outdoor antenna, I get virtually nothing except the PBS station from New Jersey. I am being forced to buy cable,” she said.

McDowell: “Because you live so far from the transmitter, you should try a booster antenna that will strengthen the signals to your TV. You electronics retailer should be able to help you. Unfortunately, Congress did not allocate money for an antenna subsidy the way it did for converter boxes.”

M. Walsh had a similar dilemma.

“At no time can you find a spot where all available stations can be viewed and heard,” Walsh said. “We have been to the homes of family and friends who have different converters but the exact same problems. We are all annoyed and frustrated.”

McDowell: You may need a new antenna. Digital antennae are available for as little as $5 and for as much as $30. You may want to seek the advice of your electronics retailer. You can also call 1-888-CALL-FCC during regular East Coast business hours and an FCC employee can help answer your specific questions.

would like to know, for example, where to get a $5 indoor antenna that will pull in every digital station in a market.