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DTV Coupon Clippers

Despite some valid concerns, it appears that consumers are getting the message about the February 2009 digital TV transition.

According to fresh National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) data, more than 10 million requests for digital TV converter box coupons have poured in since the program was launched on Jan. 1, 2008. As of April 7, NTIA had "accepted" north of 5.2 million of those requests. (See DTV Coupon Requests Pour In.)

Each U.S. household may request a maximum of two coupons by March 31, 2009. Each is good for $40 toward the purchase of special digital-to-analog converter boxes.

As of April 1, 2008, more than 1,100 retailers (representing 11,448 outlets) were participating in the program. To date, NTIA has certified 66 D-to-A converter boxes, but only seven of those models are able to pass-through analog signals. That's important because so-called "low power" TV broadcast stations may continue to deliver analog signals after the Feb. 17, 2009 deadline. And they aren't exactly thrilled about a lack of boxes with analog pass-through capabilities.

According to testimony delivered by Meredith Baker, the NTIA's acting assistant secretary for communications and information, on Tuesday, 60 percent of coupon requests have come via the NTIA Website, 38 percent via phone, and just 1.6 percent by mail and fax. Almost all (89 percent) of those requests sought the maximum number of coupons.

While requests for coupons are pouring in by the millions, just 280,128 had been redeemed as of April 4.

"Because consumers have only had coupons for a few weeks, it is too early to draw conclusions about redemption rates, which will be the key factor determining program spending," Baker explained. "Our expectation is that redemptions will be the greatest as consumers reach the end of the first 90-day expiration period."

So we'll keep our ear to the ground on that situation. But just last month Baker warned Internet Video Policy Symposium attendees that the government could run out of money for DTV converter boxes by August. But it's also possible that there will be enough funding to make it through the transition.

"Complicating the projections are the big spikes of coupon requests, starting with the first week the coupons became available," the IP Democracy blog explained in its report from the event.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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