WASHINGTON – Consumers who apply for federal coupons to pay for converter boxes ahead of next month’s transition to digital television broadcasts are being placed on a waiting list and may not receive their vouchers before the switch, the Commerce Department said Monday.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the arm of the Commerce Department administering the coupon program, created the waiting list Sunday after hitting a $1.34 billion funding limit set by Congress.
The agency will send out coupons to those on the list only as unredeemed coupons currently in circulation expire, freeing up money for the program. The waiting list already has requests for 103,000 coupons.
Meredith Attwell Baker, head of the NTIA, urged consumers now requesting coupons not to wait for them to arrive and to instead act quickly to ensure that they have at least one television set ready for the Feb. 17 transition.
Under the rules set by Congress, which mandated that broadcasters switch from analog to digital broadcasts to free up more room in the wireless spectrum, the NTIA cannot commit more than $1.34 billion at any time to cover the cost of converter box coupons. That pool includes coupons that already have been redeemed; unexpired coupons that have been mailed out but not yet redeemed; and coupons that have been requested but not yet mailed out.
Congress could address the funding problem by approving more money for the coupon program or raising the $1.34 billion cap by waiving the accounting rules that require the NTIA to wait for unredeemed coupons to expire before issuing new ones.
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