The head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration told Congress the NTIA sill does not have the inclination or authority to reissue digital-TV-to-analog converter-box-subsidy coupons to households that did not or could not redeem them before the 90-day expiration date.
In testimony prepared for a House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee hearing on the DTV transition, acting NTIA chief Meredith Attwell Baker said that to do so could "jeopardize" a smooth transition and represent "potentially substantial costs and delays."
She suggested that even if the NTIA wanted to do it, it probably could not be done before early 2009 (the DTV switch is set for Feb. 17, 2009). She added that such a change could "seriously compromise" the incentive to apply for the coupons promptly and could lead to a "last-minute" rush and potential shortages of converter boxes in the late stages of the transition.
Besides, she added, "it would be unfair to consumers who redeemed coupons in a timely manner, consistent with the statutory 90-day-expiration deadline requirement and existing coupon-program regulations."
Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said at the hearing that he thought folks whose coupons had been lost or stolen should have the opportunity to reapply for them.
Baker also outlined the NTIA's proposal last week to ask Congress for the authority to move some more money into the administrative category to cover the additional coupons it will be able to issue given that one-half of the coupons are going unredeemed. Without that flexibility, she added, the NTIA would be able to issue 44.5 million coupons without that money -- 50 million if it got it -- and urged immediate action.
A number of legislators wanted to know why the NTIA did not tell them it would need the extra money or congressional help to get it before now. Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) pointed out in a letter to Baker on the eve of the hearing that they raised questions about the sufficiency of the administrative funding in a letter July 10, and the NTIA's response to that letter had not indicated that it might need more funds.
Dingell repeated that concern during the hearing, saying that it would be tough to persuade him to take money from coupons for administrative funding.