A $20 million increase for the DTV converter coupon program was included in the $630 billion spending bill President Bush signed Tuesday. The bill, created to fund the government through next March, also included $20 million for the FCC to educate the public about the DTV transition. The federal agency in charge of the DTV converter program notified lawmakers last month that it was running short on funds. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration was charged with creating and distributing $40 coupons good against select digital-to-analog converter boxes. The boxes are designed to keep analog televisions working after broadcast analog TV signals are shut down next February. Congress originally allocated $1.5 billion for the program, capping administrative funds at $160 million. IBM, the government’s program contractor, has already charged more than $157 million for an order to distribute 44.5 million coupons, which exceeds current requests but may not take into account the 30 percent rate of expiration. Federal law requires that the coupons expire 90 days after issue date. As of Oct. 1, the NTIA had more than 29 million coupon requests. It had mailed more than 27 million, and of those, nearly 9 million had expired. The overall redemption rate was not quite 50 percent. Passage of the spending bill, H.R. 2638, was overshadowed during the week by a hotly debated vote on a $700 billion bill to bail out banks. In addition to the further funding the DTV transition, the bill included $488 billion for the Pentagon, $40 billion for Homeland Security and $73 billion for veterans programs and military base construction.
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