Digital TV converter box coupons now available

The highly anticipated $40 government coupons that will help analog TV owners convert over-the-air signals to digital after Feb. 17, 2009, are now available for preorder at

More than 500,000 people requested over 1 million of the coupons in the first 40 hours of the program, according to National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA).

The converter boxes are expected to cost between $50 and $70 and will be available at most major electronics retail stores in February and March of this year. As of January 1, the NTIA began accepting requests for two $40 coupons per household to be used toward the purchase of the boxes.

Congress, in mandating the transition to digital broadcasting by Feb. 17 19, 2009, has allocated $1.5 billion for the coupon program, which is supposed to pay for 33.5 million coupons and DTV educational costs. Tony Wilhelm, director of consumer education for NTIA, said the agency expects to have enough coupons to satisfy demand.

The first 22 million coupons will go to all households that request them, including a residence that gets cable service for one television but has a spare TV that still uses an antenna. Households with analog TVs that get their TV via cable or satellite do not need a converter box, as those services already employ technology to convert analog signals.

The Nielsen Co. estimates that 14.3 million households, or about 13 percent of the 112.8 million total television households in the nation, rely on over-the-air television broadcasts for programming.

The government also has set up a 24-hour hotline to take requests at 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009).

The FCC will auction off the spectrum currently used for analog television on Jan. 24. That portion of the airwaves will be sold to wireless providers and is expected to bring in as much as $15 billion. A portion of the spectrum will also be dedicated for use by emergency responders.