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The Digital TV Coupon Crunch

By now you probably know, after being bombarded by ads, that all U.S. television stations will begin broadcasting in digital on Feb. 17. If you don’t have a digital television or cable box, you’re likely one of many counting on a government program to help make the switch as painless as possible. Converter boxes can run as high as $70, but the government has promised up to two $40 coupons to each household to help cover the cost – all you have to do is ask.

Of course, it’s never as easy as it sounds. Now the program is out of money, and as Congress fights to fix the problem and find more funds, anyone requesting a coupon goes on a waiting list.

Meredith Baker of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the organization charged with running the coupon program, tells Carmen that she believes the chances of everyone on the waiting list eventually receiving coupons is good. Because coupons that have not yet been redeemed are constantly expiring, the NTIA is able to send out new coupons to people waiting.

But not everyone is happy with the government’s response to the impending switch. This is, after all, a government-mandated conversion, notes Chris Murray, senior attorney and program manager for Consumers Union. Isn’t the government’s sole responsibility to make sure everyone who needs assistance in buying the required equipment is taken care of? He believes Congress should delay the switch, and says there is a “reasonably good” chance they will in order to provide people the coupons they have requested but have not yet received.

The real question, according to Murray, is why we are just hearing about the program running out of funds this week. The NTIA knew it would see a huge spike in demand for the coupons as the switch date occurred, but they weren’t ready, Murray says. Consumers shouldn’t have to pay the price.

If you still need a coupon for a digital converter box, you can get on the waiting list by visiting DTV2009.gov, and continue to check back here for the latest on the coupon crunch.

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