Head of DTV coupon program is leaving

Meredith Atwell Baker, acting chief of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the key official for the government’s DTV converter coupon program, announced she is leaving the job.

She has been running the program since November of last year, when John Kneuer left the job only six weeks before the coupon program began on Jan. 1.

An NTIA spokesperson confirmed that Baker wanted to leave, but said there is no timetable or reason for her departure. Reports were that she would stay until a successor is in place.

Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, thanked Baker for her service and urged the White House to nominate a full-time replacement. He has voiced worries that the government is not handling the coupon program at an adequate level.

“Given ongoing concerns about the converter box coupon program, it is important that there be continuity of leadership at NTIA,” Dingell said. “I’m pleased Ms. Baker is committed to remaining at NTIA until a replacement is confirmed and urge the President to nominate a well-qualified replacement who is knowledgeable about the transition and whose arrival will not cause any disruptions at this critical time in the transition.”

In the meantime, there were reports that the first of the twin $40 coupons for converter boxes had started arriving in consumer mailboxes. The mailing began on Feb. 18, and some 3.4 million households have requested more than twice that many coupons.

Gary Shaprio, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, said last week that he thought the government should give viewers more time to cash in their DTV-to-analog converter box coupons.

“I think there is a growing consensus for that,” he said, saying we should “not get stuck on the fact that there is this 90-day window.”

Shapiro said he expected that fewer than 10 percent of TV households would need the converter boxes, pointing out that cable and satellite penetration are already about 86 percent and growing and that more than one-half of TV households have DTV sets, with another 32 million projected to be sold in 2008.

“It’s not about losing your health or a loved one,” Shapiro said. “It’s about the potential loss of television service for a few people for a short time.”