Another half-million coupons for digital converter boxes expired last week, bringing the number of unused government-issued discounts to 4,674,956. That’s about $374 million worth of digital converter boxes.
I’ve been over this many times, but for those just tuning in, these coupons, worth $40 each, help consumers pay for the transition to digital TV.
On February 17, 2009, the major TV networks will stop broadcasting in analog in favor of digital (at that point, older, analog TVs won’t work, unless you have a paid TV service or a digital converter box). The reason goes something like this: Analog broadcasts take up a lot of space on the airwaves so the government is forcing a move to the more efficient digital technology. Older analog signals will be used for emergency communication or were auctioned off for $19.6 billion last spring.
The coupons are for digital converter boxes, which magically start around $40. Consumers can go to dtv2009.gov to apply for up to 2 coupons per household. They expire 90 days after they are mailed. I first offered an update on expired coupons last week. But many readers have one nagging question. The answer: If you lose the coupon or let it expire, you CAN NOT apply for another one.
But there is one other option, says Todd Sedmak, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s TV converter box program.
“We suggest people ask a friend or family member who isn’t using theirs, which would be fine with us,” Sedmak said.
While there is talk every week about changing the expiration date of the coupons, nothing has been done yet.
“The information is clear when it’s sent to people that it expires after 90 days. That’s how Congress designed it,” Sedmak said. “When the coupon expires, those funds remain in our account so the next person in line has access to those funds. You wouldn’t want coupons sitting out on shelves or in people’s drawers and not be used.”
The government doesn’t track why people let coupons expire. But he offered a number of theories: they opted for cable service (which takes care of the digital transition), they bought a digital TV, or they ordered two coupons and only needed one.
For those who haven’t ordered their coupon yet, there is still time — and money! Approximately, $1.5 billion raised from last spring’s auction is funding the coupon program. That allows up to 33.5 million coupons to be issued. So far, 6.6 million have been used, while 4.7 million have expired. That redemption rate is around 48 percent, Sedmak said.
Close to home: “Los Angeles remains the number one (in coupon requests) with more than 1 million requested and 300,000 redeemed,” Sedmak added. “You’ve got a lot of issues there coming together — high minority population, low income and seniors. Those are the three top target audiences.”