Stimulus package helps digital switch

The agency that mails out coupons for digital TV converter boxes expects to eliminate its wait list in two and a half weeks, an official said Thursday.

Helped by $650 million from the economic stimulus package, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has started to mail out coupons to the 2.3 million households on the wait list, said Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, associate administrator of the Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications.

The fund that pays for the $40 coupons reached its spending limit in early January. The NTIA was still able to mail out coupons, but only as old ones expired, 90 days after being issued.

The NTIA now expects to change its rules so that people who received coupons before but let them expire can now apply for new ones, McGuire-Rivera said.

Coupons are now being mailed “first class,” McGuire-Rivera said. The government had been criticized for mailing the coupons “standard mail,” which can take weeks.

The converter boxes allow older, generally non-flat TVs to receive new digital broadcast signals.

U.S. full-power TV stations were scheduled to turn off their analog signals on Feb. 17, but because of the coupon backlog, the deadline was extended to June 12. About a quarter of stations shut down on or around Feb. 17 any way, but most of them are in small markets.

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