Markey Has First Class Solution To Expediting Coupons

Draft now circulating would allow NTIA to start procession requests that were put on hold

A draft is now circulating of Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey's bill to free up more DTV-to-analog converter box coupons.

As expected, the bill would make an accounting change to allow the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) to start processing requests it has put on hold due to lack of access to funds.

But it would also require those with freed-up requests to get their coupons via first class mail, at least up until Feb. 17, 2009, and beyond if that is deemed necessary. The bill does not signal Markey does not support at least exploring the possilbility of moving that date, as Barack Obama has proposed, said an aide. "Just because the draft bill doesn’t move the date doesn’t mean that can’t happen in a separate vehicle. This bill is designed to be short and to the point of dealing with current waiting-list issue. The decision on date switch can come later."

NTIA has been sending the coupons out via the more cost-efficient bulk mail designation. The difference between a 42-cent first-class stamp and a 25-cent standard may seem small, but muultiplied by some 17 million envelopes—figuring for 33.5 million coupons the agency has money to issue if all of them are redeemed—the savings could be close to $3 million.

Markey's Energy & Commerce Committee called on the Post Office to expedite mailings last summer, but the Post Master General said it would be impossible to do so with coupons already mailed.

A spokesman for Markey said  the change in the law would not change NTIA’s relationship to IBM , which subcontracted the distribution, or with the Post Office  "The answer is that it is “pre-sorted” first class and that NTIA has the money currently to do this and would be paying IBM to perform this." He said, adding that NTIA and IBM are "already discussing how to do this."