Converter Coupons Go Unused

The federal government is providing rebate coupons to consumers who want to buy a converter for their analog-only television sets before the transition to all digital broadcasts next February. (See the HDTV Almanac entry for details about the coupon program.)

The NTIA has issued about 20 million coupons so far. However, the coupons have a 90-day expiration, and of those that have passed that date, less than half have been redeemed. The NTIA is now negotiating with IBM, the main contractor for the program, to issue an additional 6 million coupons to take the place of some of those that expired.

According to a press release from Zenith, the company has shipped more than a million converters, and about 6 million units of all brands have been bought using the rebate coupons. Estimates for the number of US households with TVs and no cable or satellite subscriptions are as high as 20 million. And if you consider the fact that many homes with cable or satellite also have an “extra” TV somewhere that is not connected, and so depends on a broadcast signal, the total number of households could be even higher. So with less than 200 days to go until the digital TV transition (or a bit more than a month, if you live in Wilmington, NC), it would appear that fewer than a third of those who will need a converter box have used a coupon to buy one.

I’m expecting a bit of a crunch on converter boxes this fall, so if you need one and haven’t requested your coupons yet, do it now.