NTIA Boss: Apply for Coupons by Year's End

Folks who don't want to be stranded without DTV after Feb. 17, 2009, should apply for converter box coupons right away—and certainly before year's end, the acting boss of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said last week.

In a conference call with reporters aimed at getting the word out, acting NTIA Administrator Meredith Attwell Baker reiterated the message she gave Congress last month—that wannabe DTV viewers should "apply, buy and try" to ensure a smooth transition.

"The Wilmington pilot test provided us with a key lesson," she said. In that North Carolina early full-power analog shutoff, many calls of distress came from viewers who hadn't fully set up and tried out their boxes until the last minute.

She said it would probably take two to four weeks from the time of application to receive the coupon. And besides, by hooking it up early, people could take advantage of the superior performance of DTV without waiting for full-power analog to end.

Some viewers in the Wilmington experiment found they lost a station even with a working box, and the coverage area for one station significantly changed with the switch. In addition, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has said that viewers in up to 15 percent of markets could suffer the loss of a station because of new DTV coverage areas differ from their analog predecessors. He also has said there may be areas without reception even within predicted contours.

Baker said NTIA would help the FCC and other partners with that aspect of public education, but that the NTIA's focus is on getting consumers the coupons so they can get the boxes.