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August 30, 2015

Millions of $40 TV coupons now available from the government

by Jay Black, posted Jan 2nd 2008 6:03PM
Yep, if you're a hipster douchebag that still loves TV, you'll need one of these things...If you're one of the 14.3 million households that currently gets their television via over-the-air broadcasts, you'll be without a signal come February 18, 2009. That's the date the US switches from old, boring analog to what is being called by high-ranking officials as "the new hotness" or... digital.

But, you're not completely out of luck. As of yesterday, the US government is giving away 33.5 million $40 coupons to help people buy converter boxes (expected to cost between $50 and $70) so they continue to suck on the sweet electronic teat without interruption. No, don't call your doctor or wash your eyes out with bleach, you read that right: the US government is spending $1.5 billion to help people watch TV.

If want a coupon you can grab one online or by calling 1-888-DTV-2009. Don't worry about proving whether or not you actually need a coupon, because, according to the government, the giveaway works, essentially, on the honor system. I'm sure that's a fine idea. Whenever you combine "free stuff from the government" and "the honor system", you never run into any kind of trouble. I'm sure no one will order a coupon just so they can buy a converter to see if it blends.

My initial thought about this program was that it was a tremendous waste of tax-payer money. I mean, this isn't a bridge-to-nowhere or a unnecessary and possibly illegal statue of Senator Robert Byrd, this is paying people so they can keep watching television. That's like paying people to play the lottery or replacing the yearly fireworks display with an annual "hundred-dollar-bill burning", isn't it?

But then I saw that the old analog spectrum is going to be auctioned off to private companies. I'm not a hundred percent comfortable with only big companies owning the airwaves, but it does alleviate any worry that the $1.5 billion will be coming out of our pockets. You can rest assured that whoever pays for the old spectrum will be giving Uncle Sam a lot more money than that.

So, I'm only left with the current questions, hopefully answered by one of our wonderful readers:

1) I assume that this transition program is intended to help keep poor people watching television. But it's not just poor people that don't have cable; it's neck-bearded, turtleneck-wearing "intellectuals" as well. Should they be allowed a coupon? Further, if they do apply for a coupon, do they lose the opportunity to tell everyone within earshot that they "Don't watch cable, it costs way too much money, which I can spend on more important things like hemp necklaces?" This is an important question. By my own estimation, hipster douchebags account for approximately 7.1 million of the non-cable households.

2) Shouldn't the people have a say in what becomes of the 700 MHz spectrum that's going to be auctioned off? I mean, it's ours, right? I think we can all agree that TV was great and worthwhile for the 60 odd years that it had control of the bandwidth (with the possible exception of the UPN network), but who knows what's going to replace it! If someone cool, like Google gets it, then yeah, we can all be assured of something awesome (my bet is free teleportation, accompanied by little context-sensitive ads), but what if it's a lame company like Verizon? The entire bandwidth will probably be devoted to being able to download ringtones quicker. I think we should have a say in the matter.

(And please, don't tell me, "we do have a say... this is a democracy, remember!? Call or write your congressman!" I mean, this is a democracy, but this is also America [video mildly NSFW]. We don't call or write anybody unless we're retired and even then we just ramble on like Abe Simpson.)

3) How long will it be before this coupon program becomes a complete disaster? Two weeks? Four weeks? America waits with baited-breath for the inevitable resignation for all involved with an honor-based $1.5 billion television coupon program!

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First, I didn't read ALL the other posts, because I'm trying to hurry.

But, I did try the phone line to apply for a coupon and it was AWFUL! I hate the automated phone system that tries to "interpret" what you're saying. After my forth attempt at trying to get the stupid thing to understand the word "Bessie", I finally hung up and used the website.

Secondly, has anyone thought about the additional cost this puts on taxpayers by way of educational organizations? My husband and I are both teachers, and both of our schools have at least 20 television sets purchased before 2005. What happens to those sets? Do we pick and choose who gets to retain use of the airwaves or is everyone screwed? Or, does each district cough up the money to buy 20+ boxes OR replace all of those televisions with new models? I'm talking about districts that can't afford to buy new books, uniforms, or other supplies. I'm talking about schools that are continually just scraping by, which is actually the state of MOST districts in Nebraska. How is the government handling that? As a teacher, I understand the need of having network TV in the classroom at times, but as a taxpayer, I am not as understanding.

January 04 2008 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hate big government.

I'd like to remind everyone that a government big enough to give you "everything you need" is also big enough to take everything away.

Remember, too, that this whole thing is not free. It's your tax dollars. The billions going into this could go into a border fence. So much for priorities.

Keep all that in mind, and ask yourself if you really want to sponsor Uncle Sam in this situation.

Give Sam an inch, he'll take a mile.

January 04 2008 at 12:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about a $40 towards the purchase of an HDTV with a built-in converter?
Thanks for nothing, government.

January 03 2008 at 12:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David D

Well, that's me... I've got a CBS affiliate that broadcasts on channel 47 and I can barely watch "The Amazing Race" for two minutes without the picture breaking up. But will the converter give me that "crystal clear TV" look now, or will I have to wait until 2009?

P.S. I ordered the coupons. So even though this article expressed an outraged opinion, I'm grateful that you posted it.

January 03 2008 at 8:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to David D's comment

I'm with you David. We just moved to a rural farm and I have 3 whole channels! My daughter misses Disney, but until we decide whether to get satellite, she's stuck with her DVD's. I had no idea about this digital thing! I'm glad Jay posted this. I just applied for two coupons!

January 03 2008 at 11:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shane W.

Digital signals are already being broadcast by almost all television stations that broadcast at all. So, yes, you will get a crystal clear digital picture.

Take note...you may need to visit http://www.antennaweb.org/ to know whether or not you'll need a new antenna.

We have a regular antenna to receive digital signal on our TiVo and the signal strength is great. (Granted all of our broadcast towers are in one location.

January 03 2008 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

you all want this to happen, especially if you are currently watching tv through rabbit ears. your will never get a 'fuzzy' signal or a 'wavy' signal again - if you have a decent line of sight you will get crystal clear tv, as good as you get from your dvd player. yes its a pain to have another box but i'm sure you'll get over it. if i didn't need espn i'd be fine with ota digital tv but such is life.

January 03 2008 at 2:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For all who are wondering, here's the deal with the boxes:

1) This only applies to those who receive their television over the air (OTA), i.e., with "bunny-ears," and in an analog format (standard-definition).

2) If you have cable or satellite and receive your local networks through that service (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc.), you need to do nothing. This 700 MHz auction only applies to over-the-air, not over wires or via satellite.

3) If you have any TV and receive analog OTA signals, you will need a converter box.

4) If you have a TV with a digital (ATSC) tuner built-in (this can be HDTV or not) and receive HD or digital signals OTA, you do not need a box.

5) Remember, if you are a cable/satellite subscriber, you do not need to upgrade your package in any way. Don't be fooled into upgrading to digital cable because of this. Regular old analog cable, from the wall to the back of the TV, is not affected by this situation.

As linked from the article, visit http://www.dtv2009.gov/ for more information.

January 02 2008 at 7:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jason's comment
Shane W.

Actually cable is affected by the changeover...

Most cable operators will be required (by another FCC mandate) to dual-carry any channel they have on the analog portion of their lineup. This means that they MUST have an analog and digital version of the channel...many cable operators will most likely switch to 100% digital except for local networks.

My cable provider already requires a digital cable box for anything above 27. 2-27 includes our local stations plus CSPAN and HSN. That means anything else is digital only and requires a cablecard or digital cable box to access.

January 03 2008 at 11:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, I live in a rural area and my only option for tv comes through the aerial (all 8 stations!). We can't afford satellite and again, given that we live in a rural area with, y'know, trees and weather and stuff that cities don't get, I'll be more than happy to snag one of those coupons.

Oh, and we only have dial-up, too. There's no cable, no dsl, no broadband, and there won't be until Verizon sells its lines (hyuk) and another company decides the investment is worth it (double hyuk). I'd love to get my tv off the internet, then I could pass on the drivel and watch what I like...

January 02 2008 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Can someone explain this in idiot proof terms for me? I have basic cable, where you just plug the cable cord into the wall and get about 80 channels. Am I going to have to get one of these box things?

January 02 2008 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Kat's comment
Shane W.

Depending on your cable company they will either go 100% digital for anything beyond basic cable or they will have to carry the channels in both analog and digital form.

If your cable company goes all digital you will need a digital receiver from them.

These boxes are only necessary for OTA/Broadcast television.

January 02 2008 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No Kat, you will not need a converter box:


The converter boxes only apply to people with televisions that have an antenna/bunny ears on them. If you have cable, satellite or if your TV has a built-in digital tuner, you will not need the box.

January 02 2008 at 7:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

well to be fair, i'm quite sure not all OTA is going down like the article makes you think, but just the old fashion analog antenna to pick up a staticy signal of abc with a coaxial hook up to a SDTV. mean while digital mpeg-2 OTA broadcast, which is mostly 720p/1080i from local stations like abc, nbc, fox and so on should remain.

also not to mention OTA hdtv owns HD cable/sat most of the time on picture quality for the local stations. they have been saying analog will be gone many times on many dates. what ever happened to it being gone at the start or end of 2006?
however i do find those commercials funny when they act as if you need a brand new TV to receive DTV signals to stay on. mean while anyone with a set top box (cable or sattelite) even on a 30 year old tv has nothing to worry about.

January 02 2008 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to tvfan3241's comment

To answer number 3, I say maybe 2 months just because people don't understand this yet.

And here's a thought, why change at all? Be much cheaper. The fact that these boxes cost $50-$70 is insane, I was thinking $20.

January 02 2008 at 6:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Oreo's comment
Shane W.

With the coupon it will be somewhere between $10 and $30 per converter box. (Obviously up to the imposed limit of 2 coupons.)

January 02 2008 at 6:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

$10 to $30 IF you get the coupon. There are 40 million coupons, everyone will ask for 2 so that means 20 million will save some money. Last I checked there were well over 100 million households in this country. So 1/6 to maybe 1/3 will get a discount.

January 02 2008 at 8:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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