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Rabid rabbit-ear TV fans snap up discount cards

Daniel Ray

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 card design contest? Much as we’d like it, no, not that either.

converter.gifIt’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.

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  • John Weatherley

    Since the digital requirement does not start till Feb. 2009 why do the discount cards expire after 90 days?

  • Margaret Weatherley

    I have three TV’s One is connected through the digital recording box from the cable company. the other two are connected via a signal splitter to the incoming cable company’s cable(they wired them) i.e. NOT over the air – no antenna.
    You are saying I don’t need more boxes. I just talked to the cable company -they say I DO need a digital converter box for all TV’s not going through their digital recorder box.who is right.

  • John, my best guess is there’s a 90 day limit because it’s the government. They just want to churn the money out and have the program die. It’s not like a gift card from a store, where they want to make you a loyal customer. From an accounting point of view, I can understand a desire to have costs vanish from the books quickly, rather than be hanging out there.
    Margaret, what they told you contradicts everything I’ve read about how the switch from analog to digital will go. I suspect some salesperson was trying to reach a sales quota.