Congress Sends Questions to NTIA

The heads of the House Commerce Commttee and its Telecommunications Subcommittee have a lot of questions for the executive running the DTV-to-ananlog converter box coupon program.
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The heads of the House Commerce Committee and its Telecommunications Subcommittee have a lot of questions for the executive running the DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program.

In a letter Wednesday to acting NTIA head Meredith Atwell Baker, Commerce chair John Dingell (D-MI) and Telecom Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-MA) wanted answers on a raft of issues related to the supply of coupons and how they would be handed out, including whether she was okay with public broadcast stations or community groups applying for coupons they don't need and giving them to people whose coupons were lost in the mail or expired before they could redeem them.

They also asked whether, if there was money left over at the end of the program, it could be used for coupons for homes that have cable or satellite but still want a box.

Currently, there is $990 million for coupons for anyone who requests them, with the rest reserved for houses with only analog, over-the-air reception, but Baker has said there could be over $300 million to return to the treasury after the program concludes in March 2009.

The letter was a follow-up to a DTV transition oversight hearing in Markey's subcommittee Sept. 16.

A spokesperson for NTIA said it had received the letter and would respond at the appropriate time. That would be by Oct. 31, the deadline set by the legislators.

The following are the 10 questions Reps. Markey and Dingell want answered.

“1. In your testimony, you noted that television (TV) converter box coupons are portable and can be used by anyone, regardless of the name that appears on the coupon. Therefore, you suggested that consumers who have seen their coupons expire after 90 days who still wish to purchase a converter box could ask their friends or neighbors to apply for coupons on their behalf.

“Do you support non-profit organizations—such as public broadcasting stations or community groups—asking members of their organizations or other concerned individuals to apply and obtain coupons and then donate their coupons or converter boxes purchased with those coupons so that these resources may be distributed to consumers:

a. Who are needy or hard-to-reach?

b. Whose coupons have been lost in the mail?

c. Who live in multiple-dwelling units without individual addresses?

d. Whose coupons expired after 90 days? 

“2. You stated in your testimony that you expected the TV Converter Box Coupon Program to have approximately $340 million in unspent funds at the end of the program. If that is the case, do you support repealing or waiving the rule NTIA adopted—which was not part of the statute that Congress enacted—that limits the number of coupons available to households with cable or satellite service?

“3. Do you expect to have $340 million in unspent funds because the amount remaining reflects the expected demand? If you expect that amount of left-over money because you are predicting demand will be low, please respond to the specific points raised to us in an October 6, 2008, letter by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, who stated that he was “concerned that the total funding required to satisfy consumer demand may prove to be insufficient.”

“4. Do you expect consumers in households that subscribe to cable or satellite service to be turned away when they apply for coupons because there are not sufficient funds to accommodate their requests? If so, on what date do you think this will occur, and how many consumers do you estimate will be denied coupons? 

“5. Do you anticipate that any households that subscribe to cable or satellite service might need to be placed on a waiting list until coupons that have been sent to other cable and satellite homes have expired? If so, on what date do you think NTIA will need to create a waiting list, and how many households do you estimate will end up on the waiting list?

“6. If money for converter box coupons for households that subscribe to cable or satellite service runs out, does this mean that NTIA will no longer expect that the TV Converter Box Coupon Program will have unspent funds at the end of the program?

“7. If money for converter box coupons for households that subscribe to cable or satellite service appears to be running out, will NTIA act to waive or rescind the rule it adopted—which was not part of the statute that Congress enacted—that limits the number of coupons available to households with cable or satellite service?

“8. If money for converter box coupons for households that subscribe to cable or satellite service runs out, will you encourage such households to ask family members or neighbors in over-the-air-only households to apply for converter box coupons on their behalf? Please explain how your answer is consistent or inconsistent with your testimony before the Subcommittee that consumers who have seen their coupons expire after 90 days who still wish to purchase a converter box could ask their friends or neighbors to apply for coupons on their behalf.

“9. If a household that subscribes to cable or satellite service is applying for a converter box coupon for a neighbor who relies on over-the-air reception whose coupon has expired or was lost in the mail, will that application be treated differently from an application from a resident of a household that subscribes to cable or satellite service who is applying for the coupon for herself? If not, if the money for converter box coupons for households that subscribe to cable or satellite service runs out, how will residents of cable or satellite homes be able to apply for coupons for friends or neighbors in over-the-air-only homes whose coupons have expired or were lost in the mail?

“10.Based upon the experience with the DTV transition test in Wilmington, North Carolina, and data coming in from calls from consumers in that market, how many coupons do you estimate were lost in the mail during that switchover?

“11.How many coupons does NTIA estimate, by percentage, are being lost in the mail nationally?”

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