GAO Report Highlights Need for Solution to Expired Coupons

WASHINGTON - Today U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, called on the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) once again to allow consumers with expired converter box coupons to reapply so that their coupons may be reissued. According to a testimony given by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), areas with predominately senior populations have allowed 43 percent of their converter box coupons to expire. On February 17, 2009, full-power televisions broadcasters will switch to from analog to digital signals. 
This morning, during a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, NTIA confirmed that there is no plan to change this policy, stating, "We do not believe the Act provides clear authority for NTIA to issue any additional coupons to households that have already requested and received coupons, even if the coupons were not redeemed in advance of their expiration." Chairman Kohl also called on NTIA to comply with GAO's recommendation to develop a plan to manage volatility in coupon requests leading up to the transition, expressing concern that NTIA has no specific plans to address an increase in the demand for converter box coupons.
"With the DTV transition only five months away, it's time for the federal government to stop clinging to arbitrary rules and say 'yes' to simple, commonsense policy changes that will allow the transition to go smoother for seniors, and for all Americans," said Chairman Kohl. "Of the 21 million Americans who are estimated to rely solely on over-the-air broadcasts, forty percent of them are seniors. I'm asking the NTIA to help us make sure they're not left in the dark."
In June of this year, Chairman Kohl sent a letter along with 17 Congressional colleagues urging NTIA to examine innovative solutions to this problem, such as allowing consumers to apply their coupons to pre-orders of converter boxes that are out of stock or not yet available in stores.  The letter echoed repeated concerns that have been raised regarding the fact that coupons expire 90 days after issuance, with no option of reissue or replacement. Consumers have reported that in some locations converter boxes are sparse and many products are simply unavailable. For a variety of other reasons, individuals have simply been unable to utilize the coupons prior to their expiration, such as an extended hospital stay.
In September 2007, the Aging Committee held a hearing entitled " Preparing for the Digital Television Transition: Will Seniors Be Left in the Dark? " Testimony from Federal Communications Commissioner John Adelstein and Mark Goldstein, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), corroborated the results of an Aging Committee investigation that found that, at the time, the federal government was drastically unprepared to educate America's seniors about the transition, set to take place February 17, 2009. The hearing uncovered several concerns, including the lack of coordination between government agencies; an over reliance on competing private sector efforts; the potential for fraud, abuse, and confusion with respect to the government's coupon-program; and finally, that non-profit organizations require additional resources to sufficiently assist seniors with navigating the transition. 
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A copy of the June letter to NTIA can be found here: http://www.aging.senate.gov/letters/ntiaconverterbox.pdf
The GAO report can be found here: