Rabid rabbit-ear TV fans snap up discount cards
It’s quiz time: What’s the hottest payment card in America?
The Amex Red card that helps Bono rid the world of AIDS? Good guess, but sorry, no. The Capital One “War Kittens” card? Uh, no. The winner of the CreditCards.com card design contest? Much as we’d like it, no, not that either.
It’s the U.S. government-issued $40 discount coupon to help consumers make the switch from analog to digital TVs. You want one? Better hurry. Your rabbit-eared neighbor already has his: Of the 22.5 million coupons the government was authorized to dole out, more than 5 million have been claimed. The converters will alter the signal of digital over-the-air HDTV signals to make them viewable on conventional analog TVs. It’s a pretty good deal, too: The boxes cost around $50 to $60 each.
Why should you care about a box discount? Because in exactly one year, on Feb. 18, 2009, your over-the-air TV — you know, the one in your garage, workshop or garden, the one not hooked up to cable — won’t work any more without that box. The switch to digital promises to deliver a better signal and free up airwave space for emergency and commercial use. An estimated 38 million U.S. households have at least one TV that will need the box to work.
The red pieces of plastic look like and sort of work like gift cards — with a lot more restrictions. They can’t be used for anything except a converter box, can only be used once, have no cash value, can’t be sold and expire 90 days after they’re mailed.
The coupons have been available online since Jan. 2; the first ones are expected to hit mailboxes later this month.