Washington (DC) - Over half a million Americans have already requested their free pair of digital TV converter coupons for the major broadcast switch slated for February 2009.
The National Telecommunications & Information Administration began taking applications for the coupons on Tuesday, January 1. Each successful application received will generate two coupons each valid for $40 off a digital converter box (or free if it is less than $40), which converts the new signal into a format that older TVs can recognize. IBM will be handling the entire cost of the coupon program, thanks to a $120 million government contract.
The converter boxes will cost around $60, and there are manufacturers who created new operations solely for the production of these devices. The government has set aside $1.5 billion to accommodate coupon redemption.
On February 17, 2009, TV viewers will only be able to get their programming through a digital connection. People with cable or satellite, or an existing digital tuner, will not see any change after that date. Those still relying on an antenna, however, will. Various estimates put the number of affected people at between 13 million and 21 million.
Several groups, including local representatives, governmental agencies and broadcasters, fear there is a large chance of widespread confusion and frustration when the switch-over occurs in 2009. They are encouraging companies and organizations involved to better educate consumers on exactly what will happen and who actually needs a converter box. Echostar and DirecTV, meanwhile, have voiced caution over the possibility of there not being enough set-top boxes to go around, leaving some viewers in the dark.
Over 14,000 retail stores in addition to online outlets are expected to sell the converter boxes when the coupons begin to be issued next month.
Affected users can file an application for the coupons by calling