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Three-Fourths of Nation’s Over-the-Air Households Ask for Coupons

The agency in charge of the DTV subsidy program is reporting that 76 percent of U.S. households relying exclusively on over-the-air TV have applied for federal assistance.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said 11 million of the 14.3 million households that the Nielsen Co. says rely on over-the-air TV have requested coupons. (See “NTIA Coupon Request Rates by DMA”) The NTIA, a division of the Commerce Department, was directed by Congress two years ago to create and execute a program to distribute $40 coupons, two per eligible household, good against digital-to-analog converter boxes. The devices will be necessary to keep legacy analog TV sets working after next Feb. 17, when broadcaster power down analog transmitters.

Households with cable or satellite TV are just as eligible as those without, and all told, 22 million households have requested more than 41 million coupons. More than 38 million have been mailed, and 17 million have been redeemed while more than 12 million have expired. Federal law dictates the coupons must expire 90 days after issue, and anecdotal evidence suggests that once they do, folks have little chance of getting replacements.

The NTIA has committed $1.16 billion in coupons, both redeemed and on order. The agency was allotted $1.5 billion for the entire task, money intended to be pulled out of the auction proceeds from TV spectrum previously occupied by nascent digital signals.