TV viewers want tech support

2 million apply for digital subsidy

Almost 2 million requests for government-subsidized coupons to defray the cost of digital-to-analog converter boxes have been logged since the program — part of the federally mandated switch to all-digital television — began on Jan. 1.

“The demand for coupons is strong,” said Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez in a statement. “We’ve taken requests from every state for nearly 1.9 million coupons from more than 1 million households.”

The $40 coupons are intended for owners of analog TV sets dependent on over-the-air transmission. They will need a box to convert digital signals back to analog in order to keep the set operating after the switch to all-digital broadcasting in February 2009. Viewers with digital sets or with analog sets hooked to cable or satellite will not need converter boxes, which are expected to cost $50-$70 each.

Congress has allocated enough funds for about 33.5 million coupons. Officials expect demand to be less than that. Each household is limited to two coupons, and coupons must be requested from the government (www.dtv2009.gov). Coupons will be available until March 31, 2009, unless unexpected demand depletes them sooner.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the Commerce Dept., is administering the coupon program.