US DTT vouchers hit limit

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) is putting new DTV-to-analogue converter box coupon applications on a waiting list, having already run up against its statutory maximum of $1.34 billion funding limit.

That means anyone down that list won’t get their boxes in time for the Feb. 17 transition date. “On Sunday, Jan 4, NTIA hit our funding limit,” acting NTIA head Meredith Baker told reporters. “Anyone who is requesting funds now will be put on a waiting list and will be mailed coupons on a first-come, first served basis.”

The $40 coupons can be used to buy a converter box that allow analog-only over-the-air TV viewers to continue to receive a signal after the transition Feb. 17 date for the ending of full-power analog TV.

Those on the waiting list–there are currently 103,000 on the list–won’t get the coupons until money is freed up from expired coupons, a tally of which is done weekly. Baker said that $14 million per week was being freed up in expired coupons.

Currently, NTIA is set up to distribute 51.5 million coupons, but that number could be 60 million by the end of the program March 31, Baker said. If so, even with all the money from expired coupons, NTIA might need some more money. As to converter box availability for all those viewers with coupons, Baker said that demand could outpace supply by 2.5 million if additional coupons were distributed, but also has said previously retailers have “generally kept pace” with demand and “would work to ensure inventory is available if additional coupons are to be distributed.”

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