Best Buy stalls on converter box coupons

November 3rd, 2007

If you expect to be shopping for a DTV converter box this winter, Best Buy may not be your best bet.

U.S. households can begin requesting $40-off coupons from the government in January 2008, and many owners of old analog TVs will be eager to redeem them. But Best Buy, the country’s largest consumer electronics retailer, may not be ready to accept the DTV coupons until “closer to April 1,” TV Technology reports.

A three-month delay from Best Buy is a major setback for the DTV transition.

The cutover to digital TV, with its myriad details, is difficult enough to explain to consumers. For months, Congress has been urging broadcasters to promote the change to DTV early and often. But if viewers cannot use their coupons at what is, for many households, the default store for electronics purchases, it undercuts the coupon program’s credibility.

The retailer told Congress this week that its computers and cash registers will not be ready to handle the government coupons on January 1. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released the government’s rules for the coupon program in March, so it’s not as if Best Buy hasn’t had enough time to prepare for the necessary changes to its systems.

In the retailer’s defense, it warned the government—in advance of its rulemaking—that it could not risk upgrading its point-of-sale systems between October and January “because these months include the heaviest shopping traffic and volume of transactions of the year.”

Still, I would ask, why didn’t they make the system upgrades in September and just schedule them to take effect four months later?

It was Congress that set January 1 as the kickoff for the converter box coupon program, so NTIA had no choice about the date. Recent rumblings paint a scenario in which consumers may not, after all, get coupons in January. The government’s contractor is supposed to begin accepting requests on New Year’s Day, but NTIA has indicated that coupons will not actually be mailed until eligible DTV converters are in local stores.

The Bush administration may have even signaled to retailers that if they weren’t ready in time, no big deal. Indeed, earlier this year the Commerce Department suggested as much, in the discussion section of its converter box coupon rules:

The [Digital TV] Act requires NTIA to accept requests for coupons between January 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009, and thus, it proposed that retailers be ready to redeem coupons starting January 1, 2008, consistent with the statutory guidance. NTIA expects widespread retailer POS system modifications to occur in the first quarter of 2008.

In other words, the news that stores may not be ready until April 1 is not really news to NTIA.

Best Buy to sell DTV converter boxes
Converter boxes at Best Buy…sort of
Cheap converter boxes: Retailers not on board

• Link: TV Technology


  1. Marge M says:

    Best Buy may find itself being called “Worst Buy” if it doesn’t get with the program. People who need converter boxes are NOT going to want to wait several months to watch TV!

DIGITAL TV TRANSITION: Get ready for 2009

DTV Converter Boxes: Should you get one for your old TV?

DTV Coupons: How to get your $40-off government coupon.

DTV Converter Box alternatives: You don’t have to wait.