NTIA Chief Says 14.5 Million DTV Transition Subsidy Coupons Redeemed

62% of over-the-air TV households have requested DTV-to-analog converter-box coupons

As of Nov. 1, 62% of over-the-air TV households have requested DTV-to-analog converter-box subsidy coupons.

That is according to acting National Telecommunications & Information Administration Chief Meredith Attwell Baker in a speech to the Media Institute Thursday.

The boxes are necessary for analog-only TV's to receive digital signals.

Baker said that, including all households, 14.5 million coupons had been redeemed and more than 35 million distributed to over 19 million households.

Baker said those were "pretty impressive numbers" given that the program had only been operational for 11 months. She also said the converter boxes are moving out of stores at about the same rate as iPhones.

But she also encouraged everyone to apply for their subsidies by the end of the year so they can "buy and try" them before the Feb. 17 date. That's given the approximately six-week turn-around from application to installation.

But she also said that despite that progress, she said she saw a race to the finish with only 89 days to go and still many households unprepared.

The flip side of that 62%, of course, is that 38% over-the-air only households--at least a couple of million and maybe more--remain unprepared.

She said the remaining challenges would be to get those households to apply for coupons. Saying procrastinators could run into difficulties, Baker urged TV stations to be a local resource not only for transition information, but for needed hardware, again asking them to keep a "small stock" of converter boxes on hand as a stopgap measure. But she also pointed out that there were 183 NTIA-complaint boxes available at more stores than sell Starbucks coffee or Big Macs.

Baker also put in a good word for an analog nighlight bill that would allow broadcasters to keep their analog signals on for 30 days past the Feb. 17, 2009, transition date, but only for emergency and transition information, and with a variety of caveats--some stations won't be able, technically, to do it.

Baker also said she was concerned about changes in DTV signal contours that might cause some viewers to lose staitons they had historically gotten. She urged the FCC and stations to inform viewers who might be losing those signals as soon as possible, giving a shout out to FCC Chairman Robert McDowell, who has stumped for the same thing.