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Legislators Apply Pressure to Improve DTV Coupon Efficiencies

Congressional leaders charged with overseeing the DTV transition this week urged federal agencies to increase their efforts to ensure adequate distribution of DTV converter coupons.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is in charge of the coupon program, was taken to task by Rep. John Dingell , D-Mich., chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the Telecommunications and the Internet Committee, for inadequate planning to redistribute expired coupons. Concern has been growing that the coupons, which are only good for 90 days after being mailed by the NTIA, are expiring before consumers have a chance to purchase the boxes, which are hard to find in some areas of the country.

“The digital television transition is now less than seven months away and millions of consumers are counting on NTIA to ensure they don’t lose their local television signals,” Dingell wrote in a letter to the agency. “Now, we find that NTIA has not adequately planned for reissuing expired coupons. The committee intends to determine whether and where there have been shortcomings in the administration of this program, why they were allowed to occur, who was involved and, most importantly, how these problems will be corrected without penalizing consumers.”

“The coupon program is the key to ensuring that consumers who rely on analog over-the-air TV signals are not left in the dark come next February,” Markey wrote. “The NTIA has long been aware that redistributing expired coupons in a timely fashion would be key to ensuring everyone who needs a coupon receives one. The NTIA’s apparent lack of planning is a serious oversight, one that they must correct promptly and without dipping into the funds marked to help consumers purchase converter boxes.”

Dingell and Markey also asked the U.S. Post Office this week to prioritize the mailing of the converter coupons to ensure that recipients receive the coupons in time to shop for the boxes.

“Each TV converter box coupon expires 90 days after the date it is mailed by NTIA so it is essential that consumers receive these coupons as quickly as possible,” the Congressmen wrote in a letter to U.S. Postmaster John Potter. “To keep administrative costs down, NTIA is mailing coupons Standard Class rather than First Class. Because of the limited amount of time consumers have to use their coupons as well as the overall importance of a successful DTV transition for the Government, public safety, consumers and industry, we strongly urge you to give mailed coupons priority status so households receive them promptly.”