Massive Reach of Feds to Help Coupon Program

Some 15 federal agencies told the people in charge of the digital-to-analog converter box coupon program that they had the programs, structures and will to help get information about the DTV transition to the hardest-to-reach population.

At a meeting Thursday at the Commerce Department in Washington attended by about 50 federal officials, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) reminded other bureaucrats of the significance of the transition for their constituencies--such as the elderly, rural residents, minorities and veterans--and let them know about the tools NTIA has available for the job.

Anthony G. Wilhelm, the NTIA official in charge of education for the program for the $40 coupons, offered the agencies everything from a two-minute video on the transition to various flyers, available for now for free. He said he has a booth and a road show and can go wherever the agencies want him.

For example, agencies can stuff mailers about the program into their regular correspondence. They can link to the video on their Web sites. They can get on local radio, go to community meetings, speak in schools to little kids.

And they can post the Web site most everywhere.

The agencies in turn reminded the others of their enormous reach. For example, the Veterans Administration serves 7 million of the nation's 24 million vets and gives direct care to some 1 million a week. The VA's VAnguard magazine has a story about the coupon program in its February 2008 issue.

The dozen or so nutrition programs under the Department of Agriculture, from food stamps to school lunch programs, ultimately reach millions of the same people NTIA is trying to reach.

The meeting allowed NTIA to get a solid baseline of facts to the agency representatives. NTIA called the meeting just one of many steps to leverage the government's abilities in, at least, the public education component of the coupon program. Some in Congress have called on the NTIA to do more to establish a cohesive government plan across agencies for the coupon program.

Meredith Attwell Baker, acting boss of the NTIA, said so far the program has received requests for 3.7 million coupons from 2 million households. Hundreds of news stories had created 300 million "impressions," she said.