Congress Miscalculates Total Price Tag
For Upcoming Switch to Digital TV
IT’S BAD ENOUGH THAT THE GOVERNMENT is wasting taxpayer money by subsidizing the boob tube’s transition from analog to digital television to the tune of $1.3 billion. But now it appears that Congress has done a lousy job anticipating the costs and will likely have to appropriate even more money or risk running short.
On Feb. 17, television broadcasters will begin transmitting programming in a digital format. Prior to that, stations had transmitted exclusively in analog. What that means is that, on that day, anyone who relies on rabbit ears or antennae on the roof of his house to tune into to local programming will no longer be able to receive it.
In order to help the industry transition, Congress has agreed to subsidize consumer purchases of digital converter boxes, which cost between $40 and $80. Since the program first began, Washington has been handing out up to two coupons per home worth $40 each. These coupons can be used to buy converter boxes that can then be attached to a television set.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is in charge of administering the program, however, recently admitted demand for the coupons has exceeded its estimates and anticipates hitting the $1.34 billion ceiling set by Congress early.
Congress originally appropriated funding to pay for 50 million coupons. But the NTIA has already received requests for 45 million coupons and now expects some 60 million requests by March.
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(Issue # 3, January 19, 2009)