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DTV Converter Coupon Backlog Cleared

WASHINGTON: The federal DTV subsidy program is back on track after grinding to a halt in January for lack of funds. The backlog has been cleared and expired $40 subsidy coupons are now being replaced, according to the agency in charge.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department, said today it started accepting applications to replace dead coupons. As of March 18, there were more than 17 million in the market. It was Congress that decided coupons would expire 90 days after being issued, but no contingency was outlined for expirations. Millions of people either obtained coupons too long before they found an acceptable converter, or just let them fallow in the to-do pile.

The program ran out of its original $1.5 billion allocation in early January, prompting the Obama Administration to rally for an extension on the DTV transition deadline of Feb. 17. Congress subsequently opened a transition window through June 12. That same bill also provided for the replacement of expired coupons. The program was then injected with $650 million in February when the president signed the economic stimulus package.

The NTIA mailed out more than 51 million coupons, which resemble little plastic credit cards, as of March 18, the last date for available stats. Of those, nearly 26 million had been redeemed and 8.5 million remained active.

The deadline for new applications is July 31. – Deborah D. McAdams