The chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee asked the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for quarterly updates on whether there is enough money to subsidize digital-to-analog converter boxes for everyone who needs them.
The government has about $1.5 billion, less administrative costs, to fund $40 coupons for the boxes, up to two per household. Estimates vary on how many analog-only households there are, but Nielsen recently put the figure at 13 million and falling.
The NTIA, which is overseeing the program, has said that it has enough to cover everyone, but John Dingell (D-Mich.), joined by House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), doesn't want to be caught by surprise if the money does run out and they are faced with unhappy viewers/voters.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that consumers receive the help they need to prepare for the transition to digital television,”Dingell and Markey said in a letter to the heads of both agencies (see below) “Judging from the rate that consumers are applying for coupons, it is unclear whether the funds currently allotted for the converter-box-coupon program will, in fact, cover all requests. Quarterly reports from the NTIA and FCC will help us to determine whether the program needs additional funding and adjust accordingly -- before it’s too late.”
"We have received the letter and will reply to Congressman Dingell and Markey," .said NTIA spokesman Todd Sedmak. An FCC spokeswoman had not returned a call for comment at press time.