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12/29/2008
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Congressman Says Funds Needed For Digital TV Converters, Call Centers

A government agency is projecting a shortage of coupons for analog-to-digital converter boxes.

With the big switch from analog TV to digital TV rapidly approaching, Congressman Ed Markey said additional funding may be needed to accomplish the switch for millions of Americans.

In a statement Thursday, Markey pointed out that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is overseeing the switch to DTV, is projecting a shortage of coupons for analog-to-digital converters.

"Congress may need to quickly pass additional funding for the converter box program in early January to prevent any delay in coupon availability or issuance," said Markey in a statement on his Web site.

The switchover is expected to affect the 15% of TV-watching Americans who get their television programming from over-the-air antennas and not from cable or satellite services

Millions have been signing up for the coupons, which are worth $40 toward the purchase of a device that converts signals from analog to digital. However, many consumers who have received coupons have said the purchase deadline date has expired, making the coupons worthless.

The switchover is scheduled to take place on Feb. 17. In the meantime, some test regions have been established to enable officials to plan for the nationwide switch in February. Some consumers have complained about the service, noting that they are receiving fewer channels and reception is sometimes poorer with the new digital service.

The old analog spectrum -- often called "beachfront property" because of its good propagation features -- was auctioned off earlier this year for nearly $20 billion. Some of the spectrum made available was earmarked for public safety use, but there were no serious bids for it and plans are under way to reauction it later. AT&T and Verizon Communications bought most of the spectrum that was auctioned.

A new round of financing to underwrite the switchover could be used for converters and call centers to assist consumers in the changeover, Rep. Markey indicated.

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