Repeat visits to retailers have customers searching for DTV converter boxes coming up empty handed.
The switch-over to all digital television has many consumers hoping to make use of their $40 government coupon card to purchase the analog-to-digital converter boxes. The problem is, with such high demand, many retailers are out of stock, leaving disappointed consumers holding expired coupons.
“This is a huge issue, it really is.”
Michelle Vetterkind, President of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association , fresh from a nationwide conference call with the DTV coalition discussing this very issue, says you could have someone else get a coupon for you, if they don't need it.
“You know if there's someone out there who has cable or satellite or doesn't need to request a coupon they could do it for say maybe a parent or a neighbor or someone in need. That type of thing. So if someone's coupon is expiring, that might be another option.”
Since consumers are having a hard time finding the boxes in stock, and consumers are not allowed to apply for more than two cards per household, there is some talk of the FCC allowing retailers to honor expired coupons, which are only good for 90 days.
“There's talk of it right now but I just heard this myself 20 minutes ago. They said, I quote, 'Under the current statutes that is not possible.'”
Congress could change the law, but Vetterkind says that would take a long time. So, she says, “don't count on it.” Instead, another option is to call a distribution center to order your converter box. Ask about whether there is an extra charge for shipping.
Vetterkind says 221,000 coupons were redeemed by Wisconsinites as of July 9th. She says 23% of Wisconsin residents still watch free over-the-air TV, rather than paying for cable or satellite. That's the third highest percentage in the nation. It's unclear how many coupons have expired without being redeemed.
If you do finally manage to find a selection of converter boxes, which sell for $50-$70, which one do you get? Vetterkind says they are all pretty much the same, although there is one with analog pass through, allowing you to view a low-power TV channel. She says not all of the weak-signaled stations are mandated by law to convert to digital by the deadline.
One thing's for sure, if you still use rabbit ears and don't obtain a converter box by February 17, 2009, you'll be left in the dark.