The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is not off the hook with House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) just yet.
In a letter to Dingell Monday, acting NTIA chief Meredith Attwell Baker said her agency took into account the fact that it might have to issue more than the budgeted 32.5 million digital-TV-to-analog converter-box coupons, that it was negotiating with subcontractor IBM about doing so, that it set aside funding for that purpose and that it already requested that IBM be prepared to process an additional 6 million coupons, adding that the NTIA would send out as many coupons as possible.
In an e-mail to B&C, Dingell responded: "The NTIA's recent decision to allow additional households to apply for 6 million expired and unredeemed coupons may not be enough to meet demand."
Dingell is concerned that the NTIA will not have enough administrative funds to reprocess all of the coupons that go unredeemed. The current redemption rate is under 50%, which means that either a lot of people applied who don't need them, or there will be a bunch of people who will have to pay for the boxes themselves -- each house can get up to two $40 coupons toward the purchase of the boxes, which allow analog sets in homes without cable or satellite to still get TV pictures from full-power TV stations after the Feb. 17, 2009, switch to digital.
"As many coupons as possible" will need to be "as many coupons as necessary," Dingell suggested. "I expect the NTIA to fully comply with the requirements set forth by Congress and to recycle as many coupons as are needed to meet consumers' needs," he told B&C, adding that he will be ready to flex oversight muscle if necessary.
"The committee will exercise vigorous oversight to ensure that the NTIA performs its task efficiently, effectively and, most of all, in a manner that does not leave consumers behind," he added.
According to the NITA, coupon requests are coming in at a rate of more than 100,000 per day.