A. Eligible U.S. Households
4. After February 17, 2009, households may make one or more of several consumer choices to achieve digital-to-analog conversion, such as via cable or satellite service (where available), or through a converter device. [ 9 ] In the NPRM, NTIA proposed to define those U.S. households eligible to participate in the Coupon Program as “those households that only receive over-the-air television signals using analog-only television receivers."[ 10 ] NTIA further proposed to make households that receive cable or satellite television service, even if those households have one or more analog television signals not connected to such service, ineligible for the Coupon Program.
5. Many commenters disagreed with NTIA’s proposed definition and argued that all consumer households should be eligible to receive coupons. [ 11 ] Given the funding level and the possibility that many households with cable or satellite service may wish to purchase a converter box, commenters expressed concern about excluding any household. [ 12 ] Commenters also expressed concern about those consumers that may need to rely on over-the-air capabilities in times of emergency. Some commenters argued that the Act and the legislative history do not support NTIA’s proposed definition and that the Agency lacks the statutory authority to limit the eligibility requirements. [ 13 ] For example, in Joint Industry Comments, the commenters argued that the Act and the legislative history, as well as practical considerations, “preclude any implementation of the program that would exclude from coupon eligibility analog sets in cable or satellite-served homes not connected to those services.” [ 14 ] Likewise the Consumer Electronics Retailer Coalition (CERC) argued that there is no basis in the Act or the legislative history to support the standard proposed in the NPRM. [ 15 ]
6. Several comments raised other points in favor of expanding eligibility beyond that proposed in the NPRM. For example, some commenters noted that even cable and satellite households may need the ability to receive signals over the air in times of emergency or severe weather. [ 16 ] Others noted that limiting coupons to over-the-air-only households could disadvantage satellite customers who receive their local broadcast signals over the air. [ 17 ] Operators of Class A and LPTV stations noted that these facilities will continue to broadcast in analog after February 17, 2009, that most of these facilities are not eligible for cable or satellite must carry and that NTIA should not deny converter-box subsidies to households that rely on analog receivers to watch Class A and LPTV stations over the air, even if they have another means to view digital full-power stations. [ 18 ] Consumers Union contended that denying converter boxes to all households would cause disruptions in service that could undermine consumer support for the digital television transition. [ 19 ] RadioShack suggested that limiting eligibility could reduce demand for converter boxes, thus raising their costs and potentially harming low-income households. [ 20 ]
7. NTIA recognizes that limiting eligibility as proposed in the NPRM would be difficult to enforce. There are no lists of households that only receive over-the-air television broadcasts. Moreover, as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recognized, it would be a highly challenging task to obtain a list of cable and satellite subscribers in order to identify over-the-air-reliant homes by the process of elimination. [ 21 ] In fact, it would be difficult for NTIA to determine which U.S. households currently have, or plan to obtain, an analog television set requiring a CECB. Moreover, efforts to confirm eligibility would likely delay reasonable and timely distribution of coupons. [ 22 ] Unless NTIA devoted substantial resources to review applicants’ certifications of eligibility, there would be potential for waste, fraud and abuse. [ 23 ] Such efforts could also substantially increase the costs of administering the program. [ 24 ]
8. Upon careful consideration of all arguments raised in the comments for and against limiting household eligibility criteria, NTIA has decided not to initially limit household eligibility in the Coupon Program to households reliant exclusively on over-the-air broadcasts for television service. Accordingly, the Final Rule permits coupons to be distributed initially to all U.S. households. As proposed in the NPRM and consistent with the definition used by the U.S. Census Bureau, a “household” consists of all persons who currently occupy a house, apartment, mobile home, group of rooms, or single room that is occupied as a separate U.S. postal address. [ 25 ] NTIA received a comment from SunBelt Multimedia Company that requested the household definition to be expanded to allow multiple families residing at a single address to each count as a household, based on the community or income criteria. [ 26 ] NTIA recognizes that multiple families may exist in households as defined by this Final Rule, however, it would be administratively difficult to determine the number and location of these households and to establish a definition based on community or income criteria.
9. Recognizing that funds allocated for this program are limited and the possibility that over-the-air reliant television households may lose television service as a result of this decision, NTIA will permit open eligibility on a first-come, first-served basis while the Initial Funds are available (i.e., until coupons valuing $890,000,000 have been redeemed and issued but not expired, in accordance with Section 3005(c)(2)(B) of the Act). [ 27 ] The Act permits funding of the program to increase by $510,000,000 to a total of $1,500,000,000 upon certification to Congress that the initial allocated amount of $990,000,000, the Initial Funds, is insufficient to fulfill coupon requests. [ 28 ] If such Contingent Funds are available for the Coupon Program, the eligibility for those coupons provided from Contingent Funds will be limited to over-the-air-only television households (Contingent Period). Consumers requesting those coupons during the Contingent Period must certify to NTIA that they do not subscribe to a cable, satellite, or other pay televison service. NTIA makes this decision balancing the demand uncertainty and funding limitations with the need to prioritize contingency funds for over-the-air reliant households which will lose total access to television broadcasts after the transition date.
10. NTIA did not propose to consider “economic need” as part of the eligibility requirement, but solicited comment on whether it should be considered and, if so, how it should be determined. NTIA received comments opposing adoption of eligibility criteria encompassing economic need because of the complications involved in such an analysis. Some commenters also asserted that NTIA lacks such statutory authority. [ 29 ] Other commenters, however, supported the idea of adopting a means test and suggested that NTIA use income or participation in other federally supported programs as a basis of determining eligibility. For example, the American Association of People with Disabilities suggested that NTIA adopt a program similar to the FCC Lifeline-Linkup phone subsidy program which uses 135 percent of the poverty level or persons who are beneficiaries of other federal assistance programs as a basis for eligibility. [ 30 ]
11. NTIA agrees that including economic need as an eligibility factor in the Coupon Program
would be a complicated process. Furthermore, because this is a one-time program, it would not
be cost effective to develop eligibility requirements and verification systems such as those used
by other federal assistance programs, such as Food Stamps. NTIA noted in the NPRM that
neither the Act nor the legislative history suggests such a requirement. Accordingly, NTIA will
not consider economic need as part of an eligibility requirement for the coupon program.
Moreover, the Agency will only make the Coupon Program available to individual U.S.
households, as proposed in the NPRM, not businesses, schools, or other entities as suggested by
one commenter. [ 31 ]
The Act states that a “household” may obtain coupons, and there is nothing in
the legislative history or the comments that suggests that Congress intended to extend eligibility
[ 9 ] Not all local television signals are uplinked and delivered to satellite homes today. The extent to which satellite subscribers will have digital-to-analog conversion of local signals available to them after February 17, 2009, will depend on the availability of “local-into-local” offerings from satellite providers.
[ 10 ] NTIA proposed to define a “television household” as a “household with at least one television . . . consisting of all persons who currently occupy a house, apartment, mobile home, group of rooms, or single room that is occupied as separate living quarters and has a separate U.S. postal address.” See NPRM, 71 Fed. Reg. at 42,068.
[ 11 ] See Association for Maximum Service Television, Consumer Electronics Association, and National Association of Broadcasters (Joint Industry) Comments at 5-11; Thomson Comments at 2; Archway Marketing Service Comments at 2; LG Electronics Comments at 5; Community Broadcasters Association Comments at 3; Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition (CERC) Comments at 5; AARP Comments at 5; MTVA Comments at 3; Joint Consumer Comments at 2-8; APTS Comments at i; RadioShack Corporation Comments at 3-6; Sodexho Comments at 4.
[ 12 ]See Letter to Hon. John M. R. Kneuer from Hon. John D. Dingell, Hon. Edward J. Markey, Hon. Henry A. Waxman, Hon. Frank Pallone, Jr., Hon. Bart Gordon, Hon. Eliot L. Engel, Hon. Ted Strickland, Hon. Lois Capps, Hon. Tom Allen, Hon. Rick Boucher, Hon. Sherrod Brown, Hon. Bart Stupak, Hon. Gene Green, Hon. Diana Degette, Hon. Mike Doyle, Hon. Jan Schakowsky, (Letter from Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee) (Nov. 15, 2006) at 2.
[ 18 ] Community Broadcasters Association Comments at 5. Section 3002 of the Act permits Class A and LPTV facilities to broadcast in analog after February 17, 2009. Moreover, a cable system must carry a LPTV facility only if it meets certain limited requirements. 47 U.S.C. § 534(h)(2).
[ 21 ] See “Digital Broadcast Television Transition: Several Challenges Could Arise in Administering a Subsidy Program for DTV Equipment,” GAO-05-623T (May 26, 2005) at 11-13 (GAO Challenges Report). In addition to the cable industry’s reluctance to give the government access to its subscriber lists, GAO noted that it would be difficult to merge information across the more than 1,100 cable and satellite companies in the United States. GAO Challenges Report at 12.
[ 25 ] See U. S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov (Current Population Survey – Definitions and Explanations).
[ 29 ] See Carolyn McMahon Comments; Stored Value Systems, Inc. Comments at 4; Consumer Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Free Press Comments at 9-10; Sodexho Comments at 5; Letter from Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at 2.
[ 30 ] See American Association of People with Disabilities Comments at 8 (the federal programs cited by AAPD include Medicaid, Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, The National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program, Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribally Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Head Start, Tribal National Lunch Program).