January 4, 2008 / 10:18 PM / in 11 years

Strong start for TV converter box program, U.S. says

Visitors walk past flat screen televisions at an exhibition stand of the IFA 2007 consumer electronics fair in Berlin, August 31, 2007. More than 1 million U.S. households have requested $40 government coupons since Tuesday to help pay for converter boxes for the coming switch to digital television, officials said on Friday. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 1 million U.S. households have requested $40 government coupons since Tuesday to help pay for converter boxes for the coming switch to digital television, officials said on Friday.

The government has taken requests for almost 1.9 million of the coupons from more than 1 million households since the coupons became available on January 1, according to the Commerce Department, which is overseeing the program.

“The demand for coupons is strong,” Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in a statement.

The coupon program is aimed at owners of traditional analog sets who view over-the-air broadcast TV. Those sets will not work after the digital switch on February 17, 2009 without a converter box.

The converters are expected to cost between $50 and $70. They will not be necessary for televisions hooked up to cable, satellite or other pay services.

Congress ordered the switch to digital television because it will free up valuable airwaves for other uses, such as for police and fire departments. It will also lead to improved picture and sound for TV viewers.

The coupon program is being overseen by an arm of the Commerce Department called the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The NTIA has certified more than 100 retailers to participate in the converter box program, including Best Buy Co Inc, Circuit City Stores Inc, RadioShack Corp, Sears Holdings Corp, Target Corp and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The government will begin distributing the coupons to consumers next month, when retailers will have converters on store shelves. Consumers have until March 31, 2009 to request coupons to help pay for the TV converters.

Reporting by Peter Kaplan, editing by Carol Bishopric

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