Eureka, CA – So, you might be wondering exactly how complicated it is to get these “free” DTV converter box coupons from the U.S. Government. As many of you will know from reading this site, the government will send each household in the United States up to two $40 coupons. Each of the coupons is good towards the purchase of a stand-alone digital to analog (CECB) DTV converter box. You will need one of these boxes if you intend to watch digital TV channels over the air after February 2009 with an older, analog TV set or tuner.
First of all, filling out the online form is easy. There are a minimal number of questions. You can fill out the entire form online at http://www.DTV209.gov . It takes only a few minutes. You can also call their toll-free number at 1-888-DTV-2009. You will be walked through the application status over the telephone. Either way, the application process asks pretty much the same questions, and you will get your coupons just as fast one way as the other.
There are some “catches” with the application process. Considering the fact that this program is administered by the federal government, the whole system runs fairly smoothly though. The biggest “catch” is the fact that if you want to get the coupons in the first place, YOU HAVE TO APPLY FOR THEM! You won’t get them automatically if you fail to apply. There are only a limited number of coupons that are being produced, although the feds won’t tell us the exact number. Either way, availability is on a first-come, first-served basis. Once they are gone, they’re gone.
The second “catch” can be a bit of a pain for many rural Americans. This is rather ironic, since those in rural areas are the ones most directly affected by over the air signal reception of DTV signals. In a nutshell, you will have to give the government a physical “street” mailing address in order to get your coupons mailed to you. You can NOT use a PO Box as a mailing address. You can NOT use a business address to send your coupons to. You can NOT use a service such as Mailboxes, Etc., The UPS Store or other private mailbox provider. You can NOT have the coupons shipped to you overseas or to any domestic address that does not match-up with a (very buggy) database of residential addresses maintained by the U.S. Postal Service. This is a rather unforgiving process, unfortunately. You will need to enter your street address information EXACTLY as it appears in the USPS database, otherwise your application will be rejected. So, what do you do if you live in a remote area and you do not have a “street address” that is serviced by the U.S. Postal Service? At this point, insofar as we can tell, you are just out of luck. Sorry.
The same goes for any legitimate street address that the USPS has “mucked-up” in their database. From previous experience, I can tell you that this database is horribly inaccurate in many cases. For example, the business address that I have used for 10 years to receive postal mail, UPS shipments, FedEx deliveries, freight deliveries, my income tax and voting materials, driver’s license, etc. does not exist at all in the USPS database. Funny, I still get mail there every single day though. Go figure! In cases like this, you may want to try calling their toll-free phone number at 1-888-DTV-2009 instead, since you will not get anywhere with the online application system.
So, you’ve called or filled-out the DTV converter box application online. Now, what? Sit. Wait. Check your mailbox again, and be prepared to wait a bit longer. A very informal survey we did recently indicated that it took approximately 20-30 days for consumers to receive their DTV converter box coupons in the mail. You will eventually receive a standard sized #10 envelope with a couple of pages of information and (usually) two “coupons”. They don’t look like your average coupon though. They look more like credit cards. There is a mag stripe on the back of each plastic card, as well as a serial number on the front. The mailing will most likely come from TV Converter Box Coupon Program, PO Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000.
The first page (see above) contains your name and address, the coupon(s) and a list of local retailers where you can supposedly buy a CECB digital TV converter box. These locations are most likely automatically generated from a database that matches your zip code to that of nearby registered CECB converter box retailers. It is far from a complete list though. The one we received (see above) listed eight locations in Humboldt County where the digital television converters are available. They consisted of SEARS, Radio Shack, K-Mart and Target. We do not have a Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal-Mart or a number of other participating electronics chain stores in our area, or they most likely would have been listed first.
The second page (see left) contains some general information about the DTV converter box program. This page also has a list of the most recently approved CECB DTV converter box models that are eligible for the program, although we are guessing that the list will probably be less than 100% up-to-date by the time you get it. Lastly, the insert contains a list of about a dozen or so mail order and online retailers that will accept the coupons and who presumably have the decoders in stock. If you want to read the entire list, see the end of this article for a link to download a digital copy of the insert, which you can print out for yourself.
Lastly, and most importantly!!! If you take away only a single fact to remember from this entire article, it should definitely be to take a close look at the expiration date on each coupon. At most, you will only have 90 days in order to use your $40 DTV converter coupons before they expire. Once they expire, they are absolutely worthless. The government will not give you an extension or re-issue you new coupons. In other words, use them, or lose them! You have 90 days to use the coupons from the day the coupons are printed, NOT from the day that you receive them. As with most bulk mailers, this agency quite likely only sends out their mailings once per week in order to get a bulk discount from the U.S. Postal Service. So, you may find that up to two weeks has been shaved off the 90 days you have to spend the coupons by the time you actually receive them. The government has caught quite a bit of flack over the entire 90 day expiration date issue, but it’s too late for them to make any changes to the program at this point. So, buyer (and taxpayer) beware!
Below are links to graphic copies of the materials you will receive once you register to receive your free government Digital Television (DTV) converters, or CECB boxes. They have been “Photoshopped” to remove certain parts of the serial numbers. Needless to say, you can’t just print these pages out on your inkjet printer and try to pass them off as real coupons. Each DTV converter box coupon has it’s own individual serial number and mag stripe. The information on these pages is for reference and display purposes only.
We will soon publish an updated list of online retailers that can actually process the $40 DTV digital converter box coupons via the Internet. Most online retailers have no way to accept these coupons at present, and most likely never will. A handful of companies have stepped forward to fill this gap, and they are the only ones you should consider buying from online, since you will most likely be overcharged (no discount given) if you try ordering from a merchant that hasn’t made special provisions to deal with these specific coupons.
UPDATE: President Obama and the U.S. Congress officially extended the deadline for broadcasters to switch to DTV to June 12, 2009. You can keep applying for coupons via phone or the Internet until that time. Keep in mind that the extension is basically voluntary, meaning that broadcasters can switch their signals to DTV and STOP broadcasting in analog anytime that they want to. There are very few stations that are waiting until June to make the jump to DTV, due to the high cost associated with simulcasting both digital and analog signals. So, chances are that the only analog broadcasts still remaining in your area are most likely that of translators and low-power (LPTV) stations, which are not required to transition to digital, anyway.