Thursday, June 12, 2008

TV viewers say they can't find digital converter boxes before federal vouchers expire

Here's a story that every rural news outlet in the United States should be covering. To ease the nation's transition to digital television, only 250 days away, Congress authorized $40 vouchers for people without cable or satellite TV to buy converter boxes. But the boxes are in short supply and the vouchers are expiring before people can find the boxes, House members said at a hearing this week.

"If you can't get a box within the 90 days, what good is this?" Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said as he held up one of the vouchers, which "resemble plastic gift cards," The Associated Press reported. Each household is entitled to two coupons; a converter box is needed for each TV set.

About 8.5 million households have requested 16 million coupons since the program started earlier this year, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is overseeing the coupon program. Nearly 3 million coupons have been redeemed so far," AP reports. " Of the roughly 840,000 coupons that recently expired, 42 percent were redeemed, the agency said. Under current government rules, consumers with expired coupons cannot reapply for new ones." NTIA spokesman Todd Sedmak said the agency is considering changing the rules to allow reapplication. The agency's Web site has detailed information.

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