Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) have asked the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) to allow consumers to reapply for DTV-to-analog coupons if they fail to redeem them before the 90-day expiration date.
NTIA is handing out up to two coupons per household, each worth $40 toward the boxes, which will allow analog-only sets to receive and over-the-air TV full-power TV signal after the switch to digital in February 2009.
Joined by Dingell, chair of the Energy & Commerce Committee, and 19 other colleagues, Markey, who chairs the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, wrote acting NTIA chief Meredith Baker Tuesday asking for that policy change, saying it was consistent with statute and would be helpful to consumers.
“The coupon program is key to ensuring that all American consumers are able to enjoy the benefits of the digital television conversion," he said in a statement accompanying the letter. "For most coupon-users the 90-day window will likely suffice, but if consumers are unable to use the coupon in the allotted time, the NTIA should be flexible enough to allow those consumers to re-apply for coupons. This move would be consistent with the law and helpful for consumers,”
The 90-day expiration date was adopted in part to help avoid fraud or a secondary market in the coupons, but Markey and company say that re-applying after that expiration would still comport with the law.
The letter came a day before Markey plans to hear from Baker, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and others about the status of the DTV transition as the country approaches one year until the Feb. 17, 2009 hard date for ending full-power analog broadcasts.
NTIA wasn’t tipping its hand on what the answer would be. “Miss Baker will address congressional member questions at the hearing,” said NTIA spokesman Todd Sedmak.
Markey did not mention it, but one converter box manufacturer, EchoStar, said it would price its box at $39.99 but not likely have them widely available until June—that is, after the first coupons issued in late February or early March have expired. Most boxes are being priced between $50 and $70, with consumers having to pay the sales tax.
NTIA has so far certified 37 converter boxes, Sedmak said, and more than 4.7 million coupons have been requested by about 2.5 million.