Commerce Dept. creates waiting list for converter coupons

The Commerce Department says there's a waiting list for anyone applying for federal coupons to pay for converter boxes ahead of the transition to digital television broadcasts.

Those on the list may not get their voucher in time for next month's switchover.

The waiting list started forming Sunday after the $1.34 billion funding limit set by Congress was met. The list already has 103,000 requests for coupons.

The agency will send out coupons to those on the list only as unredeemed coupons currently in circulation expire. Meanwhile some lawmakers say more money needs to be freed up to help consumers make the transition.

Those with cable or satellite TV or anyone who buys a television set with a digital tuner has nothing to worry about.

According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, because of the high demand for coupons, the program reached its $1.34 billion ceiling, which consists of ordered and redeemed coupons.

"Households need to consider all of their options and act now to be prepared for the February 17 transition to digital television," said Acting NTIA Administrator Meredith Attwell Baker. "We are working with Congress, the incoming Administration and other stakeholders to ensure everyone is prepared for the transition and no one is left in the dark."

When consumers contact the Coupon Program to request coupons, they will receive a message they have been placed on a waiting list and will receive coupons on a first-come, first-served basis, as coupons become available and funds are returned to the U.S. Treasury from expired coupons. Consumers will receive a reference number that they should write down and use to check the status of their order at the Coupon Program's Web site,

More than 24 million households have requested more than 46 million coupons and more than 18 million coupons have been redeemed. Consumers holding coupons should redeem them before the coupon expires within 90 days from the date it is mailed. To date, 52.5 percent of coupons requested have been redeemed and more than 13 million coupons have expired.

With 43 days until the transition to digital television, 12.6 million households that rely on television with an antenna have requested coupons, based on consumers self-reporting. The Nielsen Company reported recently that in January 2008, 14.3 million households rely on TV with an antenna.

The Coupon Program helps households with analog televisions--not connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service--to buy a converter box so the TV works when full-power TV broadcasters transition from analog to 100 percent digital broadcasts on February 17, 2009.

Consumers receiving free, over-the-air television on analog televisions will need to act now to ensure their televisions continue to work when full-power television stations go all-digital. Viewers of over-the-air television need to look at each analog set in their home that is not connected to cable, satellite or other pay television service and make a timely decision. They can connect their television to cable, satellite or pay television service; they can replace it with a digital TV; or they may keep it working with a TV converter box. A converter box, which costs $40 to $80, may be purchased with or without a coupon.