Digital TV coupons could run out

Consumers in the U.S. who wait too long before claiming coupons for digital TV converter boxes could find themselves empty-handed, according to Reuters.

A Department of Commerce official who is overseeing the subsidy program said that a last minute increase in coupon requests means that demand may exceed supply in the coming month. The analog switch-off, which is set to take place on February 17th, will bring improved picture and sound to viewers, while freeing up frequencies for other uses. Around 15 percent of the population rely on analog over-the-air signals and will require a digital converter box in order to continue watching over-the-air TV after February 17th.

The subsidy program, which gives out a $40 coupon towards a converter box, is likely to reach its budget limit of $1.34 billion in the first week of January, according to Meredith Attwell Baker, acting assistant secretary for Communications and Information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

In a letter dated December 24th, from Baker to Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who asked for an update on the digital transition, said, "Once the obligation ceiling is reached, the program will hold coupon requests until funds from unredeemed coupons become available. NTIA realizes that this would likely result in consumer confusion."

Markey thought Baker's response was worrying, saying in a statement, "It is becoming increasingly clear that at minimum Congress may need to quickly pass additional funding for the converter box program in early January."

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