On Sunday, the digital television (DTV) converter box coupon program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) reached its $1.34 billion ceiling, leaving perhaps millions of analog over-the-air TV viewers without access to coupons with which to purchase converter boxes prior to the nationwide DTV transition on February 17. In response to an inquiry from House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), acting NTIA Director Meredith Baker warned late last month that, as a result of a recent surge in coupon requests, the DTV coupon program would likely run out of money in January unless additional funds were allocated to the program by Congress. Noting that NTIA had expected to handle four million coupon requests in December, Baker said “we saw a massive spike in coupons during the past six weeks,” during which a record 7.2 million coupons were ordered. Since the program’s inception, NTIA has received requests for 46.2 million coupons, and 18.6 million of those coupons had been redeemed as of Monday. Since the program hit its funding ceiling on Sunday, NTIA has created a waiting list for new coupon applications, and requests will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis as previously distributed unredeemed coupons expire. Although the agency anticipates that six million unredeemed coupons will become available for redistribution by March 31, Baker admitted that many consumers on the waiting list are unlikely to receive coupons by the February 17 transition deadline. Accordingly, Baker advised wait-listed viewers who rely on over-the-air signals to purchase either a DTV set or a DTV converter box at full price to ensure that they have access to at least one TV set that is DTV-ready before the transition deadline. While Markey confirmed that Congress is “looking for creative ways of solving the problem,” he criticized NTIA for leaving “precious little time to respond” and for creating “a mess by not admitting that there was not sufficient funding until the very last minute.” Asserting that “retail store shelves and Internet sites are and will continue to be stocked with plenty of converter boxes,” the Consumers Electronics Association proclaimed: “NTIA should be permitted to mail out coupons immediately, and we urge Congress to work with NTIA to lift the red tape.”