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Consumers Must Wait As DTV Coupon Funding Dwindles

FCC commissioners are scrambling to help more than 8 million households still unprepared for the changeover from analog to digital TV.

Hopes for a smooth transition for the analog-to-digital switchover are looking increasingly shaky as the government program that subsidizes converter boxes is dangerously close to running out of funding.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, said Sunday that consumers requesting coupons from the TV Converter Box Coupon Program are being placed on a waiting list.

The $40 coupons will be mailed on a first-come, first-served basis, as funds from expired coupons become available, the agency said.

The NTIA said the program has reached its $1.34 billion legal obligation limit, which consists of ordered and redeemed coupons. Congress allotted the funds for the Commerce Department to help with the Feb. 17 deadline. That's when broadcast television will switch to analog signals.

About 15% of Americans get their television programming from over-the-air analog programming. Converter boxes, typically costing $40 to $90, will switch the new digital signals to analog reception on existing TV sets. Consumers have been bombarded with more than $1.5 billion worth of educational information on the Feb. 17 switch, with broadcasters alone spending more than $1 billion on consumer education.

Already, consumers already are complaining about poor reception in some test areas, and some are finding that the coupons issued by the government for converter boxes are no longer valid.

With the switch to DTV looming next month, FCC commissioners are touring the United States in an effort to educate consumers and raise awareness of the changeover. An estimated 8 million households are still unprepared for the changeover from analog to digital TV.

Chairman Kevin Martin has been swinging wide across the country and, after conducting DTV Outreach meetings in Florida and Indiana, he's scheduled to conduct additional meetings Tuesday in Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus, Ohio. Commissioner Robert McDowell has been conducting interviews on the switchover at television stations in the Washington, D.C., area, and Jonathan Adelstein has been conducting education meetings in California and Arizona.

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