With six months left before TV switches to all-digital broadcasts, the number of government-issued coupons used to offset the purchase of a digital-converter box dropped below 50 percent. This means that more than half of people who requested a $40 coupon have lost it or have let it expire.
[Also read: FCC will start an 80-city tour to answer questions about the digital TV transition beginning late August. ]
The latest data, from the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, shows that coupon redemption rate dropped to 48.8 percent last week, down from a high of 53.5 percent three weeks earlier. Lost or expiring coupons rose to 52 percent. This data is for completed transactions, or coupons issued by May 10. Coupons issued since then have not yet expired.
Coupons expire 90 days after they are mailed. The $40 coupon can be used to buy one of dozens of digital TV converter boxes at 2,458 retailers nationwide (at 28,097 locations). Older, analog TVs that use an antenna to get a TV signal won’t be able to watch major channels after Feb. 17, 2009. But installing a digital converter box will convert the new digital signal back to analog so the TVs will still be watchable.
The government set aside $1.5 billion from last spring’s auctioning off of some airwaves to fund 33.5 million coupons. As of Aug. 13, 8.3 million coupons have been used, while 6.7 million coupons have expired.
Possible reasons for the higher rate of expiring coupons are people don’t realize they expire (the date is listed on the coupon), they realized they don’t need a converter box because they have cable, satellite or another paid TV service, or they recently bought a digital TV. People who have let their coupons expire cannot request another one, but the program allows people who don’t need one to give their’s away.
Consumers can apply for a coupon at dtv2009.gov or call 1-888-DTV2009.
Many converter boxes have sold out, according to the NTIA’s official list. However, I know digital converter boxes are still in stock. I was at the Target store in Huntington Beach over the weekend and they had plenty (see photo on right).
For more tips, check out “Guide to the 2009 Digital TV transition.”