Waiting List For DTV Coupons Continues To Grow

Clearing out backlog without swift congressional action unlikely.

The waiting list for converter box coupons continues to grow, and the prospects for clearing out the backlog without swift congressional action appear slim to none.

 According to the latest figures from the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, there are more than 1.35 million requests for DTV-to-analog converter-box coupons on its waiting list, with hundreds of thousands more coming in every day.

NTIA began the waiting list last Sunday, when it hit its $1.34 billion ceiling on funding for the program, which issues $40 coupons toward the purchase of DTV-to-analog converter boxes that allow viewers of over-the-air analog TV signals to continue to receive a picture after those signals go digital on Feb. 17--or not, depending on current efforts to delay that date.

According to NTIA spokesman Todd Sedmak, 325,000 people on that list have been sent their coupons, which happens after a new batch of coupons expires and the money is freed up.

But that 300,000-400,000 taken off the list is now just a fraction of number being added in the same time frame.

For example, the number of new requests on Monday alone, the first day of the freeze, was 465,000.

NTIA could get some help soon. Legislators are working on bills that would free up the money. 

NTIA says that so far, a little over 19 million converter boxes have been purchased with the coupons, and it has enough to cover 33 million boxes. But with it taking four weeks or more to "apply [for], buy and try" converter boxes, as the NTIA likes to say, it has been advising consumers to apply for their coupons by the end of last month to insure plenty of time to be ready for the Feb. 17 transition date.

For millions, that now translates to, apply, wait and wait.

While Barack Obama has called for a delay in the DTV transition date, citing that backlog, Cpmmerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez does not support that move. "We think the statutory date made sense, and its certainty has been a key element of efforts by the government and the private sector to raise awareness and drive preparedness," he said in a statement Firday. "That's why we supported it.  We still do.

"We're working closely to ensure a smooth transition, and we'll let the next Administration comment on the President-elect's views," he added.