5 Reasons To Fret Over DTV Coupons

The federal government continues to bungle the transition to digital television, this time by making it difficult for consumers to redeem subsidy coupons for DTV converter boxes.

Consumers can request the $40 coupons now, but they expire after 90 days even though converter boxes are still not widely available. Mouse Print broke down all the known caveats:

1. You cannot combine the coupons toward the purchase of a single box (each will cost between $50 and $70 approximately).

2. The coupons expire 90 days from their mailing to you, and expired coupons will not be replaced.

3. There are only 22.5 million coupons unless Congress authorizes 11.25 million more.

4. While some boxes have already been approved, more are expected.

5. Many if not most retailers do not have the boxes in stock yet.

If you or your grandparents still rely on bunny ears to receive your television signal, ask your local electronics store when they expect to stock the digital converter boxes before requesting your subsidy coupon.

Mouseprint rightly argues that the coupons should not expire. The federal government shouldn’t worry that throngs of coupon-wielding seniors will bankrupt the treasury by simultaneously redeeming their DTV coupons. This is the sort of problem the government might be able to tackle if a single official was overseeing the DTV transition.

DTV Coupons: The Consumer Catch-22 [Mouse Print]
(Photo: anomalous4)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. JustAGuy2 says:

    Re: #1

    The boxes won’t be $50-70 – EchoStar has already announced their box, going to be $39.99 – taking pre-orders now.

  2. CaptainSemantics says:

    @JustAGuy2: Yep! I can see myself getting that one. $40 – $40 = $0.

    AND, it’s not like they are mailing coupons out immediately. Taken directly from the confirmation I received:

    “IMPORTANT:
    TV converter boxes are not expected to be available in retail stores until late February or early March. You will receive your Coupon(s) then. The Coupon will expire within 90 days from the date it is issued.”

  3. capkincaid says:

    But will the EchoStar box be approved for the coupon?

  4. forgottenpassword says:

    You know…. I just cant help but feel that I am somehow going to get screwed in this whole deal. I use rabbitears.

    I wonder if all the cheapest boxes will go first. Forcing people to buy the more expensive ones or let their coupons expire before cheaper ones are made available again.

  5. bohemian says:

    This ought to confuse seniors more than Medicare part D.
    I’m sure there will be a run of articles on how questionable electronics store employees misinform senior consumers in order to sell them a new TV instead.

  6. parad0x360 says:

    we wouldnt need these silly coupons if people would just keep up with technology…im sure but anyone without a DTV of some sort should just be left behind. You can buy a DTV at Walmart for the same price as one of these box’s and have been able to do so for about 5 years now.

  7. weave says:

    My father-in-law lives in the woods. Literally. No cable, can’t get a “dish” to get reception through the thick layer of trees, and currently uses a TV antenna on a tower to get “snowy” analog TV.

    [www.antennaweb.org] pretty much confirms he won’t get a usable digital signal even with a directional antenna.

    Now this is anecdotal I know, but it does make me wonder how many people will go dark next year.

  8. forgottenpassword says:

    @parad0x360:

    WHY should I throw out my 5 year old 35 inch tv I paid $500 for that still works perfectly? SO I can waist money on new technology? Pffft! I’d rather spend 10-20 bucks on a converter box, then have to shell out $500+ on a comparably sized new signal-compatable TV!

  9. dh86sj says:

    Savvy retailers would offer to accept the $40 coupon towards the purchase of a new HDTV. Not that they’d be able to cash in on the actual $40, but it would still get people in the door and spending money.

  10. Crim Law Geek says:

    @dh86sj:
    Actually, retailers can _only_ accept coupons towards the purchase of an approved converter box. There are limits as to what can be defined as an approved box (for purposes of the coupon), so a box with extra features not related to conversion (i.e. a converter that is also a DVR) won’t be covered. I didn’t read the rules close enough, so a coupon-approved retailer may be able to accept the coupon towards purchase of a TV or whatever, but they definitely won’t be able to collect on that coupon from the government (so the retailer will be eating the $40).

  11. DoctorMD says:

    No one mentions that the UHF Digital TV signals do not travel around objects as well as the old VHF. Buildings, trees, and hills can block it. My last 2 locations I could get perfect analog signals but not a single digital stations from the same broadcast towers. What for all the people who get the box but cannot get reception?

  12. C2D says:

    @parad0x360: You’re an idiot.

    1. Shitty TVs are sold at Wally World.
    2. I REFUSE to shop at Wally World.
    3. I don’t spend enough time watching my TV to merit buying a new one simply so I can pay $$$ for Cable or Satellite TV.
    4. Most of my time spent in front of the TV is watching DVDs, not broadcast. The main reason being I hate commercials.
    5. I’ve got other priorities for $500 than buying a new TV, e.g. paying off bills and living debt free.
    6. Clearly you don’t have kids, because if you did you’d know how what $500 means to a family.

  13. SpenceMan01 says:

    This whole coupon situation is sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you order early, you have to rush to get one before your coupon expires. If you wait until the converters are more prevalent to order your coupon, you run the risk of them running out of coupons.

    The fact that the coupons expire makes this a really crappy situation.

  14. JustAGuy2 says:

    @capkincaid:

    Yup, it’s on the list: [www.ntiadtv.gov]

  15. TheDude06 says:

    My theory is that if grandpas tv in the garage stops showing baseball games, grandpa may just grab his buddies and a few shotguns and hit the streets, coupon or no coupon.

    Ive got standing bets to friends that the analog signals will not be shut off for another 10 years

  16. Edidid says:

    The issue is that most people acquiring these coupons are not actually those who need them. The demographics which these coupons were intended for are not the same groups with consistent convenient access to the internet to easily get these coupons.

    The demographics who are snapping up these coupons are the people with more money to keep up with technology and will most likley waste the coupons tiding themselves over until the replace the set entirely.

    A good idea to keep access open to all poorly implemented in a way that makes it easier for the richer to get than deserving.

  17. Let’s remember, for better or worse, that the FCC will auction off the spectrum that analog signals currently use, and doing so has been public knowledge for years. Though the FCC is very much in the pocket of big corporations, its mandate since 1934 has been to work in the public interest–and using that spectrum for a large number of people who could use it for mobile networks, etc., vs. the small number of people who would use it for analog-broadcast TV sets probably is legitimately in the public interest.

    For that reason, the whole converter box thing seems thrown together at the last minute: the FCC never thought–with years’ worth of warning and huge subsidies for cable companies–that consumers would end up in the position of even needing a converter box.

  18. HooFoot says:

    @parad0x360: What do you suggest for families that own and use multiple televisions? Upgrading every set in house would easily set a family back over a thousand dollars.

  19. yasth says:

    @thirdgen: I think that is what dh86sj is implying, just mark up the prices some, and “accept” the coupons. “Why pay up to $90 for a box, when you can put that money to use on a whole new tv?” goes the copy in my head.

    But yeah this “explanation” is actually mostly wrong. The coupons expire 90 days from issue. No retailer wants to put the boxes out yet, as it would just be a cause of returns, and accusations once the coupons came in.

    Also for the most part waiting for boxes is going to be silly, the rules are very strict about what can be and what can’t be included. If one wants to wait, one waits for the SmartAntenna discounts. Boxes have already been priced at $40 as there is no economic pressure to go lower (you can’t get money back) they will offer discounted pricing on the SmartAntenna.

  20. DeliBoy says:

    @parad0x360: Are you kidding me? So I guess that means you have an iPhone, a hybrid car, and the latest type of solar panel on your house?

  21. MightyPen says:

    hooray for government subsidies!

    Unfortunately for some, the beat of technology goes on. Its ok rabbit ears users, it could be worse. At least you don’t have to upgrade your horse and buggy to a Model T in order to go to the saloon.

  22. parad0x360 says:

    @forgottenpassword: you could buy a 35 inch dtv for $150 my friend.

    @DeliBoy: no no and no. TV’s with digital tuners have been around for about 15 years. They have been affordable for more then 5. There is a reason the switch to digital is being made and its not luxary like an iphone. You dont need to buy an HDTV to have a digital tv…any memorex tv you buy at walmart for $50-$200 has a digital tuner.

    Sometimes technology dies, this is one of those times but at the very least this time the Government is trying to ease said transition. The same cant be said for the millions who were forced to upgrade their cell phones just a couple short years ago. There was no huge outcry then.

    • Anonymous says:

      @parad0x360: I guess some of you haven’t been paying much attention. Many of us have not exactly had a bountiful life in the last 5 or more years. A LOT of people haven’t had the extra bucks to buy any new TV, let alone a digital one. Duh!

  23. the_wiggle says:

    @forgottenpassword: amen to that. both our tv’s are well over 7yrs old and working just fine thank you!

    it’s the folks who cannot afford basic cable or a new tv that are going to get totally screwed.

  24. il1lupo1970 says:

    omg, that kitty looks *exactly* like my leila. without the coat hangers, of course.

  25. goller321 says:

    @parad0x360: You’re a jckass. Televisions aren’t meant to be disposable. It is a tremendous waste to simply throw away perfectly good sets. If the government mandated this, then they should pony up the proper amount of coupons for all to get the necessary converter. This is a complete cluster fuck, and is a prime example of how screwed up government can be.

  26. scoosdad says:

    @weave: Time to trim some trees and/or put a satellite dish on top of that tower that has the antenna on it now.

  27. spinachdip says:

    @mightypen: You mock, but the public airwaves are just that, owned by the public and access to the airwaves are a de facto constitutional right. So if FCC is going to mandate the change and do such a piss poor job of communicating it to the people who are affected the most, these coupons are the least they can do.

  28. goller321 says:

    @parad0x360: You’re on crack. “affordable” televisions with digital tuners have been around for a few years max.
    My 61″ Sony RPTV was a higher end television less than 6 years ago, and it doesn’t have a digital tuner in it. Until recently most televisions didn’t have ANY digital capabilities.

  29. swalve says:

    @doctormd
    1) Digital reception should improve greatly when analog is turned off.
    2)And newer generation digital receivers are supposed to be much better at receiving signals.
    3)Digital signals propagate the same way analog signals do. Same antennas, same wires, etc. If you get a ghost on analog, you’re going to have dropouts on digital.
    4) The difference is that receivers deal with bad signals differently. Analog receivers get static and zigzags and roll, while digital receivers get blocky and then don’t display anything.

  30. Shuft says:

    As a radioshack employee, I can say this is going to be a huge mess.

    Nobody knows when they will be in stock (old people aren’t going to pro-order them off some new-fangled web outfit). I haven’t seen anything about how to accept the coupons (I’m sure this will eventually be figured out, but probably not easily). What happens when the old person can’t figure out how to use the converter box? Are they going to get money back for the coupon, be able to re-order the coupon, or just be out the promised $40?

  31. Buran says:

    @spenceman01: … except the coupons won’t go out until the boxes are expected to be available …

  32. ribex says:

    Is there a website(s) that lists the television models that do or do not have digital tuners?

  33. misstic says:

    what till you see what they do to our healthcare when we let the govt control it! Yippeeeeeeee!

  34. swalve says:

    @spinachdip: Actually, they are not a de facto right, because if it was a de facto right, it would be written into the constitution. It’s not.

  35. RvLeshrac says:

    @swalve:

    The public maintains rights to all natural resources, including the airwaves, discovered or used in the USA.

    Oil companies pay the government for the privilege of pulling oil out of the ground in the US, even on private property.

    Mining companies pay the government for the privilege of pulling ore and minerals from the ground in the US, even on private property.

    Broadcasters pay the government for the privilege of being allowed to utilize the EM spectrum to broadcast signals.

    All of this money-taking is (supposedly) on behalf of The People of the United States in trust and, yes, it is codified.

  36. FLConsumer says:

    @weave: From my experiments, the digital signals just won’t work as well in many situations where an acceptable (but not perfect) analog signal can be received. From what I’ve seen, mobile reception of TV is going to be mostly impossible with the DTVs and DTV tuners I’ve tried. So far I’ve not found a satellite TV dish small enough to use in a passenger car.

    @misstic: I’m all for socialised medicine, just not in the USA. The government here has shown that it’s 100% incapable of handling anything that requires planning.

  37. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I’m not in a hurry. I think as the demand rises, the cost of these converter boxes will drop. And I’m pretty sure next generation DVR’s and DVD recorders (and maybe even VCR’s) will have built in digital tuners anyways.

    @RIBEX:

    The TV manufacturers usually list the specs on their website for each of their products. Look for “ATSC tuner” somewhere in the specs. That will let you know, it can receive digital TV broadcasts.

  38. spinachdip says:

    @swalve: “de facto” as it’s used in English, means “in practice, if not in letter of the law” or something to that effect. If I’d written “de jure constitutional right”, then you’d be right, but I didn’t.

  39. spinachdip says:

    @misstic: I agree! Just look at the horrific death rates in countries with government-funded healthcare! [krugman.blogs.nytimes.com]

  40. XianZomby says:

    Nobody is going to get screwed on this. Out of 22 million coupons issued, nobody anywhere will get screwed. Because it is free. Free. And you can’t get screwed out of something you are not owed. You simply pay attention to the instructions on their Web site, order the coupon when you see the boxes in stores, and realize this is a subsidy to help you buy a box to help bring our communications in the U.S. into the 21st century, instead of something for free.

    Of course, people will use their coupon to get less-than-perfect boxes. Or there will not be an option they want. And people will wonder why they can’t get another free box that is better. Read all about it here, on Consumerist, where people who are getting something for free can still find something to complain about — either the government, digital TV, Best Buy or Comcast.

    Buy a new TV if you don’t like the government’s $40 dollar gift to you.

  41. quail says:

    The coupons will keeps thousands upon thousands of useful televisions out of the land fills. That is an incredible savings to the government. As to people complaining that everyone should have been buying digital televisions, you’ve got too much money burning away in your pockets. Besides, the simple fact that TV stations have gone to broadcasting in digital means that my analog TV now gets the best picture it’s ever seen. All without an upgrade.

  42. MBZ321 says:

    Reminder: the coupons aren’t being mailed until the boxes hit the stores (according to the govt.) The first few weeks they are out I am guessing Wal-Mart and the like will sell them for no more than $50.

  43. soapdish says:

    @il1lupo1970: OMG those clothes hangers look “exactly” like mine. Without the kitty, of course.

  44. stinerman says:

    @dh86sj:
    Right.

    I’m not really interested in a box, but I am in the market for a new TV. HD not necessary; digital will do fine.
    If the idea is to ensure people will have access to the new digital signals, the coupon should be able to be used towards the purchase of a new digital TV.

  45. forgottenpassword says:

    @parad0x360:

    Provide a link to a name brand one. Not some “vizio” brand that just appeared within the past few years.

    So unless you can provide a link to a 35 inch $150 magnavox, panasonic, sony (in other words… a reliable well-known brand name) to replace my 5 year old magnavox that still works fine….. your post is meaningless.

  46. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @thirdgen:
    There is a class action suit in the works to force the government to allow the coupons to be used for the purchase of digital TV’s.

    Just remember, it’s the Republicans that have fucked this thing up.

    They need to extend the analog broadcasts at least for two more years.

  47. humorbot says:

    God forbid people might wind up without television. They might start talking to each other, or maybe voting. While I realize the government is mandated to maintain free access to the public airwaves, the content of those airwaves of late renders this populist notion quaint at best, and grossly disingenuous at worst.

  48. CPC24 says:

    @forgottenpassword: Vizio is actually the number one brand of flat-panel TVs in the US today. I bought one a couple of months ago, and have been very satisfied.

  49. Myotheralt says:

    @JustAGuy2: I think I will get one even though I already have a (crappy) hdtv. Then I could get a cheap regular tv and still be able to use it if the dtv switch ever happens.

  50. Anonymous says:

    These boxes are going to be the one of the most misunderstood consumer electronics items of the decade – especially when you have to swap out the big unwieldy VHF antenna for a new UHF one at the same time to really get them to work.

    I was tempted to sign up for my coupon but I’m going to wait. My $40 gift may wind up getting bought and then re-sold on eBay.

  51. Chune says:

    @swalve:
    Why should digital reception improve greatly once analog signals are turned off? Intuitively, that might sound right but — I cannot find the source of this truthiness.

  52. @parad0x360: Why on earth should I be forced to get rid of a perfectly good television in order to receive a signal upgrade that I’m not particularly interested in to use a technology that I mostly use for Simpsons reruns and tornado warnings?

    Is there not enough chromium in your air and water already? You really want to ACCELERATE the rate of technological disposal?

    Personally, I prefer not to live in a disposable society. Nor one driven by planned obsolescence.

    (Plus I’m still pissed about the absolute FUBAR-y way this transition was handled by the gov’t.)

    @TheDude06: “Ive got standing bets to friends that the analog signals will not be shut off for another 10 years”

    It’s already BEEN 10 years — and billions of wasted dollars in spectrum allocation. The box coupons ARE the solution to keep grandpa from hitting the street with his shotgun. Analog is going dark.

    (The theory was that TV makers would change to digital and people would buy digital starting almost a decade ago so there’d be few people still using analog, but TV makers kept stalling … and stalling … and stalling, and TV stations kept stalling changing their broadcast signals, so we’re all jammed up on a far-too-tiny cell phone spectrum and digital TVs don’t have nearly the penetration original estimates predicted and we’re stuck with coupons.)

  53. burgundyyears says:

    @chunews: I believe the current digital signals are in the UHF spectrum, and when the analog signals are decommissioned, they’ll settle down into more favorable transmission territory (closer to VHF), possibly at higher powers? (not sure) and reception should improve.

  54. Buran says:

    @forgottenpassword: There’s only really a few OEMs for these things. You pay more for the name on the thing if you buy brand-name stuff. It’s OK to look at new brands, considering how decent they can be.

  55. Buran says:

    @humorbot: God forbid people still be able to get tornado warnings and other vital information.

  56. econobiker says:

    But will the converter box work with the new Blu-Ray er Hi-Def err Blu, err, Hi,errrr whatever- DVD player….

    I am waiting for the inevitable Media generated circus 1 to 2 weeks before the change over. You know, the time period which is only as far out the media reporters can process news stories.

    And cue the indignant, pissed off senior citizen living on a fixed income who needs their tv to be able to live, who missed the coupons, and can’t afford a converter…

    They need to advertise/send the coupons in media outlets that technologically lagging people use- newspapers, magazines, readers digest, etc

  57. econobiker says:

    And I forgot to mention to advertise the coupon on books of USPS stamps too….

  58. vladthepaler says:

    Whatever gvt officials were sitting around one day and said “Hey, why don’t we break everyone’s teevees” shouldn’t be re-elected. But they probably will be.. who’s responsible for this? Consumerist: normally when you report on a problem, you also say who’s responsible for it. Why don’t you do that here? I would like to know who is responsible for this idiotic move… then complaints can be sent to somewhere perhaps more useful than your very nifty comment page.

  59. MightyPen says:

    @vladthepaler:

    Unfortunately technology marches onward, leaving some behind, as has happened for perpetuity. The spectrum being used by Analog is better suited for purposes other than television broadcasts. Luckily, for those who have older models, the government will be subsidizing the transition.

    This is a painful but necessary transition.

  60. ancientsociety says:

    @parad0x360: @mightypen: You’re both idiots. I hope your local gov’ts put a landfill right next door to your homes to accomodate all the trash generated from America’s conspicuous consumption.

  61. MightyPen says:

    @ancientsociety:

    You seem like a friendly chap, I can send you my 40$ voucher if you need an extra, I don’t need mine.

  62. MightyPen says:

    @ancientsociety:

    Oh, re: that landfill next to my house.

    Hopefully people will choose to recycle the cardboard box that the converter comes in, so as to keep the landfill at a reasonable mass.

  63. This was to be expected, our bloated govt trying to dole out discounts for a mandated switch over to digital tv…. Personally I think the free market should dictate the price of the items. If I have a family memeber who cannot affort the cost of the converter I would proabably pick one up and pay for it out of my pocket, it could be a tax write off :) Govt hand outs are rarely worthwhile.

  64. ConnerC says:

    Gosh darn it, I still can’t get over the fact my telegraph doesn’t work anymore – and now this! :(

  65. glorpy says:

    @mightypen, tekno-yanqui:
    Did you notice the FAQ where it says that coupons can’t be transfered to other households?

    Don’t apply for the coupons if you have an HDTV or ATSC tuner or you have cable/satellite service. You’re just hurting people who actually need them.

  66. AD8BC says:

    I agree with many here that the radio spectrum is owned by the people. And that the government has made too many mistakes with regard to it. But imagine a world where there is no FCC to split up the bands.

    If everyone had free reign to transmit whatever they wanted anywhere, there would be no standards for TV receivers, broadcast receivers, etc. And, seeing as radio signals generally don’t respect government borders, if there were no agreements between bordering countries it would make for an even bigger mess.

    The radio spectrum is limited… but it is well laid out. If you want to communicate for free, get a CB or FRS radios and use the frequencies alotted to them. If you want to communicate for free for long distances, get a ham radio license (as I have) and use the frequencies allowed to them. Want to transmit TV? Get a TV station license. Want to listen to the police? Buy a scanner. Want to listen to FM? Buy an FM radio. It is designed to tune in the frequencies that broadcasters use for FM radio.

    Here is a great chart showing how the spectrum is laid out: [www.ntia.doc.gov]

    Don’t get me wrong. I am all for less government interference. But some things you just have to leave to to feds. If you left it up to the people how they wanted to use the spectrum you’d have a real mess.

  67. AD8BC says:

    Oh, and going to digital TV opens up lots of available spectrum for other uses that are currently crowded out — mainly land mobile communication and some data services (at the higher ends)

  68. AD8BC says:

    @glorpy: I figure I’ll apply for my 2 vouchers, buy a couple of converters, and sell them on ebay later.

  69. swalve says:

    @spinachdip: Sorry, my bad. I got it mixed up.

  70. swalve says:

    @chunews: Two reasons- right now, there are (basically) twice as many channels broadcasting in the TV band, the legacy channel, and then it’s digital counterpart. You see, the digital channels use the same channel “map” as the analog ones, they just send a different type of signal. So when digital broadcasters went on the air, they were assigned a different temporary frequency to use. Here in Chicago, for example, channel 2 broadcasts it’s digital channel on channel 3. If you have a digital tuner, it tunes to whatever frequency channel 3 is on. Then there is then a mechanism called PSIP that tells the digital tuner to pick up the channel on the correct channel (3), but display it as 2, so nobody gets confused. As if. Anyway, all those extra channels out there add to the “noise floor” which makes it hard to pick up the channels. You can’t receive channel 3 coming in from Grand Rapids or Chattenooga in Chicago (for example), but they contribute some “static” on digital 3 here. So when they turn off all the analogs, the tv spectrum gets a lot quieter, signal to noise ratios go down, and consequently you don’t need as “loud” of a signal to get clean reception.

    Secondly, analog signals are a little “bigger” than their assigned channel. Sort of like when you’re listening to AM radio on one station, sometimes you can hear a station on a whole different frequency. Picture the channels on a number line, and analog signals are triangular points pointing at the channel number, but spilling over into the next channel. Digital signals do not have that problem. They are more like a rectangle that stays within it’s channel.

    All of that causes interference, so when the analogs shut off, it gets better.

    (There are other issues with harmonics, especially in the UHF band, that with analog required complicated algorithms so that channels don’t interfere with another. That’s why they are so many and they are sparsely populated. Completely incorrect example: if you have a channel 22 in an area, you can’t have a 33, 44, 55 or 66. Again, completely wrong numbers, but the concept is there. That problem is reduced with digital, so you can cram more channels into less “space”, so that’s why they are lopping off part of the spectrum and using it for other purposes. Digital TV is just a much more efficient use of the spectrum.)

  71. Sun_Dog says:

    Hey all! I appreciate the information you’re provideing as well as the opinions. But, I’m really curious on how this will effect *portable* t.v?? All of the mentioned sets here are stationary systems. I’m one of those civilians living out in the middle of freaking nowhere Ohio and I don’t really mind adding an extra box to my t.v. Thing is what if I go camping? Or perhaps have a tailgate party or something? DO I have to haul arround a black brick with my Sony Watchman? A device thats twice as large as it *and* that has tobe powered by 110-120v source? I’m not entirely up on the whole digital sets but I highly doubt the portable tv’s will have capabilities to keep up with this?.. Give me some feedback guys! I’m concerned.

  72. poornotignorant says:

    @Sun_Dog: Unless you can connect a device between your antenna and the tv, it won’t work. If it has a plug in for an external antenna, then you’ll have to buy the cables and antenna to put the converter between the antenna and the tv, and have a power source for the converter.