The lunchtime speaker at last week’s Policy Symposium was Meredith Baker, acting administrator for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). And although the session didn’t have much to do with the rest of the conference, Ms. Baker was chock full of updates on the federal DTV converter box coupon program.
First, the NTIA has already received more than eight million coupon orders. I figure they can’t all be from the Engadget staff, so at the very least there are a few educated consumers who have heard of the program and have already acted to get their own coupons. Unfortunately, these consumers may not be educated enough. One conference attendee admitted last week that she ordered her coupons and then realized she didn’t need them because she has cable. Those coupons will end up in the trash, and I doubt they’re the only ones.
Coupon reimbursement rates are one reason the NTIA has very little way of knowing when it will run out of money. The organization has already run through roughly $320 million of the $890 million allocated to it by Congress, and Ms. Baker suggested the NTIA would be asking Congress for an additional $450 million in the near future, just in case. The other reason it’s difficult estimate funds is because order volumes are not consistent. There were surges, for example, when the program first started and around February 17th of this year, one year before the official transition date.
From a consumer perspective, I learned a few things about the program that I wasn’t aware of yet. For example, the mailers that go out with the DTV coupons include certified converter-box retailers in your area determined by zip code. Convenient. You can also place coupon orders through the end of March 2009. (That’s for folks who don’t clue in to the transition until D Day.) Finally, there are no certified battery-powered converters for battery-powered TVs yet. Got a battery-run, portable television? So far, you’re out of luck.
If you want more detail on the DTV transition, take a look at the NTIA website. The cable industry’s Cable Tech Talk blog also had an interesting post up recently on the subject.