Coupons Available For Digital TV Switch

    January 2, 2008

The government is now offering $40 coupons that people can use to apply towards the cost of a converter box that will allow analog TV to work when the switch to digital television takes place next year.

Starting February 18, 2009, consumers who do not own a digital set and receive their programming from over-the-air antennas will not be able to get a picture. The converter boxes will cost between $50 and $70 and will be sold at most major electronic retail outlets. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will be accepting requests for two $40 coupons per household that can be used to purchase the boxes.

People who have satellite or cable service will not need a box. To request a coupon viewers can visit this Web site or call the government 24-hour hotline at 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009). Congress has set aside $1.5 billion for the coupon program to cover the transition to digital broadcasting, which will fund 33.5 million coupons.

Initially 22 million coupons will go to households that request them. The remainder of the coupons are meant for those who do not subscribe to a  pay-television service. Nielsen says that 14.3 million households still use over-the-air broadcasts for programming. Tony Wilhelm, director of consumer education for NTIA said they will have enough coupons to meet demand. "We think the high number will be 26 million," he said. "Low end is 10 million."

On January 24, the FCC will auction off the spectrum used for analog television. That part of the airwaves will be sold to wireless providers and could sell for $15 billion. Part of the spectrum will be reserved for emergency responders.