February 11, 2009 in Business, City

Inland NW residents waiting for DTV coupons

Several stations to convert next week
By The Spokesman-Review
Video: How to set up a DTV converter box
Dan Pelle photo

Eddie Stazel, of Spokane Valley, tries to decide with help from Target electronics expert Andrew Sawatzki, which brand of converter box to spend his federal coupon on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009.
(Full-size photo)

More information

• For information on the coupon program, go to www.DTV2009.com.
• After requesting coupons, consumers will get a message they have been placed on a waiting list.
• They’ll also receive a reference number to check the status of their order on the Web site.

More than 8,700 homes in North Idaho and Eastern Washington are on the federal DTV coupon waiting list, but few will get those coupons before most local stations switch to all-digital television next week, officials said Wednesday.

High demand for the coupons, which offer a $40 discount toward the cost of a digital TV converter box, has swamped the agency handling requests, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

As of this week, the NTIA said it has requests for 3.7 million coupons from viewers across the nation. In January, as demand peaked, the NTIA began a waiting list for those needing coupons, said spokesman Brad Forbes.

The digital converter boxes receive digital TV signals and make them usable by older, analog TV sets. Those with cable or satellite TV service don’t need a box, unless they also have a TV set using an over-the-air antenna.

Just this week, Congress voted to delay the digital signal switch from Feb. 17 to June 12.

Even so, four Spokane TV stations – KHQ, KXLY, KAYU and KSPS – will make the switch on Tuesday as scheduled. They are among more than 490 stations that notified the FCC they will move on and not wait until June.

Three other Spokane stations, KREM, KSKN and KGPX, will not switch until later, station managers said.

NTIA data show 4,824 households from Idaho’s 1st Congressional District are waiting for coupons. In Washington’s 5th Congressional District, which includes all of Spokane County, there are 3,931 households on the list.

To date only 53 percent of the 47.5 million coupons sent out have been redeemed by consumers. As unredeemed coupons expire (after 90 days), the government can re-issue those coupons to people on the waiting list, Forbes said.

Forbes said that the past redemption rate of 53 percent suggests that nearly half of the 3.7 million coupons on the waiting list will become available as other coupons expire.

Congress originally set aside $1.34 billion for the coupon program. Under federal law, Congress can’t authorize more money for coupons unless it does so with new legislation. The economic stimulus package, in the bills that went to the House-Senate committee for reconciliation, included more money for discount coupons.

Staff writer Tom Sowa can be reached at toms@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5492.

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