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Converter Box Coupon Program update Print E-mail
Published: Thursday, 24 July 2008 00:00

Since the Converter Box Coupon Program began Jan. 1, more than 19 million coupons have been mailed to U.S. households who want to continue to watch television on their analog-only sets after the Feb. 18, 2009, digital transition.

The Coupon Program, by federal law, requires applicants to provide a valid U.S. Postal Service household mailing address. A post office box may be used only for areas where home delivery is not available.

Applications from motorhome owners who use private mailboxes (PMBs) to receive mail will not be accepted. PMB users can receive coupons, however, with a little help from their friends.

Application denied

FMCA member Leland Guth, a full-timer who uses a PMB, received this e-mail in response to his coupon application:

“Dear consumer:

“Thank you for providing additional information regarding your application for the TV Converter Box Coupon Program. According to the legislation that enacted this program, mailing addresses used for RV residents are not eligible for coupons. This includes RV Park addresses, as well as P.O. box or mailing facility addresses. Therefore, we can not currently approve your application.

“As part of our evaluation of your application, we are seeking additional consideration regarding your eligibility. We do not currently know when a final decision will be made.”

Sincerely,

Consumer Support
TV Converter Box Coupon Program

Motorhomers like Mr. Guth, and others who use PMBs and commercial mail services, appear to have only one option for receiving coupons: Enlist the help of family and friends who have a physical residence to which the U.S. Postal Service delivers.

“We have had a couple of calls from motorhomers, so we’re aware of the situation,” said Bart Forbes, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce. “The solution that we’ve told people is to get a friend, family member or neighbor to request the coupons. When they receive them, they can give them to you and you can redeem them.”

Help for P.O. box users, seniors

RVers who use PMBs aren’t the only ones whose coupon applications have been denied by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce that administers the Coupon Program. A substantial number of consumers who use post office boxes for mail receipt also have been turned down.

But on April 24, NTIA issued a proposed rulemaking that would amend the current program rules in favor of post office box users.

According to the proposed changes, a household with a post office box can apply for and receive coupons if the applicant provides proof of physical residence, such as driver’s license, utility bill, property tax bill or homeowner’s insurance policy.

Through the consumer appeals process, NTIA had become aware that many applicants have valid reasons for using a post office box. For example, consumers appealing denials said they chose to receive mail at a post office box because they were concerned about the risks of identify theft posed by home-delivered mail.

NTIA also has proposed to waive the “eligible household” and application requirements for individuals residing in nursing homes or other senior care facilities. Each coupon request would be subject to additional information requirements not otherwise applicable to eligible households.

A little help from your friends
The final rulemaking concerning post office boxes and nursing homes will be published by early fall, Mr. Forbes said. The public comment period ended June 9, 2008.

Meanwhile, it looks like motorhome owners who do not meet the physical residence requirement will have to pay full price for digital-to-analog converter boxes unless they have a friend or relative who can apply for the coupon for them.

“We encourage folks to have a family member to call up, use their household and give you the coupons,” Mr. Forbes said. “We are mandated to send two coupons per household; it doesn’t matter who’s name is on the coupon.”

To apply for a coupon, go to www.dtv2009.gov or call the 24-hour Coupon Program hotline, (888) 388-2009.

For more Coupon Program updates and information, visit www.ntia.doc.gov.

 
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