Government DTV coupon program ends, American households nearly all covered

The federal government ended its digital-to-analog converter subsidy program on Friday, July 31, after spending more than $1.5 billion for coupons. Representatives for the program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said that as of July 22, 34.4 million households were approved for a maximum of two coupons each, and more than 63 million had been mailed. Of those, 25 million expired and 33.6 million had been redeemed. Another 4.4 million coupons remained active — far more than the most recent estimate of households with no TV reception whatsoever.

The Nielsen Company reported that 98.9 percent of homes are now able to receive digital television signals. This is a gain of 229,000 homes in the last two weeks and 1.3 million homes since the week of the June 12 digital television transition. As of July 26, only 1.2 million homes were unable to receive digital signals.

Among the 56 local markets that Nielsen measures with electronic meters, Providence-New Bedford is completely ready, and there are 32 markets not far behind with less than 1 percent of TV households completely unready. Albuquerque-Santa Fe continues to have the highest percentage of homes (3.5 percent) that cannot receive digital signals from high-powered U.S. television stations. The markets with the least prepared households tend to be in the Western United States, where cable penetration is lower. Also, some viewers in border states continue to receive signals from Mexico and Canada, while other stations in large geographic markets or areas with mountainous topography can continue using analog “translators."

Breaking down households without digital signals, Nielsen found:
• Homes without digital access are not necessarily watching TV on the Internet. As of July 12, 60.7 percent of completely unready homes have no Internet access.
• Most unready sets are not located in central parts of the house. Nielsen data shows unready sets are mostly located in spare bedrooms, kitchens, basements, offices and garages.
• Income seems to be a factor. 54 percent of unready homes earn less than $25k per year and 29 percent earn $25k-$50k per year.
• Households headed by older adults are almost entirely prepared with less than 1 percent of TV homes completely unready. 2.7 percent of homes with a head of household under 35 are completely unready, though their preparedness continues to improve.