WASHINGTON - Coupons days are here for owners of outdated analog televisions.
The federal government said Friday it will begin mailing out $40 coupons next week to consumers to help pay for converter boxes that will save their analog sets from becoming obsolete.
TV viewers who get their programming over an antenna and are not connected to cable or satellite will need a converter box when full-power broadcast stations begin transmitting digital-only signals in February 2009. An estimated 13 million to 21 million U.S. households are in the analog-set set.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration agency is overseeing the $1.5 billion coupon program to subsidize converter-box costs, estimated to run between $40 and $70. More than 2.6 million households have requested nearly 5 million coupons since Jan. 1, the agency said.
More than 9,700 stores, including those operated by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Best Buy Co. Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc., Target Corp. and RadioShack Corp., will be selling the special equipment in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Consumers have 90 days to use the coupons, which resemble plastic gift cards, or they expire.
The expiration date comes too quickly for many on Capitol Hill, who are sure to hear from constituents tangled in the transition.
About 20 House Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sent a letter to the NTIA to allow consumers with expired coupons to reapply for new ones. An agency spokesman said NTIA will have a better understanding of the coupon program in the coming months and will work with congressional staff to examine the expiration issue.
Every household, regardless of whether it needs a box, is eligible to receive two coupons. Initially, $990 million will be used to pay for coupons and cover administrative costs, which are capped at $110 million. An additional $510 million could be allocated, but those coupons are reserved for households that only have over-the-air television.
Consumers can apply online at www.dtv2009.gov or call the 24-hour hot line, 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009). They can also fax a coupon application to 1-877-DTV-4ME2 (1-877-388-4632) or mail one to P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000. The program expires March 31, 2009.