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Digital-TV Aid Proposed for 21 Million Households

July 25, 2006|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — An estimated 21 million U.S. households, those that rely solely on over-the-air television broadcasts, would be eligible to get coupons to buy digital converter boxes, according to a Commerce Department agency proposal released Monday.

Coupons would not be offered to a majority of U.S. households because they already have an alternative. The Government Accountability Office estimates that about 85 million households watch television using cable or satellite services.

U.S. television stations are required to switch to airing only digital broadcasts in February 2009. However, millions of Americans have yet to buy new televisions that receive the higher-quality broadcast signals.

Congress last year passed a law that would provide an initial $990 million, and as much as $1.5 billion, to help Americans buy converter boxes that would keep their analog televisions working when the digital transition is finished.

"They are the households that would be most directly and manifestly impacted by the transition," said John Kneuer, acting assistant secretary of Commerce and head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

The agency sought public comment on the proposal and other ideas such as whether to limit the coupons to low-income households.

Broadcasters estimate that there are 73 million television sets in U.S. homes that are not hooked up to cable or satellite. But the GAO found only about 44 million TV sets in homes that rely on over-the-air broadcasts.

The industry sells 28 million to 30 million TV sets annually. By March 2007, all new TV sets must be able to get digital broadcasts. Consumers have been reluctant to buy the new sets because many still cost more than $1,000.

If the entire $1.5 billion was used, the government could offer coupons for 37.5 million TV sets. The law permits eligible homes to receive as many as two coupons, each worth $40.

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