Nursing homes get help in digital TV transition

/ Source: The Associated Press

The government has expanded a coupon program meant to ease the transition to digital television broadcasting to cover nursing home residents and users of post office boxes.

After Feb. 17, 2009, all full-power TV stations in the U.S. are required to stop broadcasting their old analog signals. Anyone who gets programming through an antenna and does not have a newer-model digital TV set will need to buy a box that converts the digital signal to analog.

The government is providing two $40 coupons per household that can be used to buy these boxes. But people who live in nursing homes or whose mailing address is a post office box have not been eligible.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that residents will be able to apply for a coupon 30 days after the rule change is published in the Federal Register.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which runs the coupon program, has been particularly concerned about nursing homes. The agency has said they "constitute a vulnerable community that may rely on free, over-the-air television to a greater degree than other members of the public."

The agency will allow nursing home residents to receive one coupon. The new rule allows for a family member or representative from the nursing home to apply for the coupon on the resident's behalf.

The change affects residents of licensed nursing homes, intermediate care facilities and assisted living facilities.

Residents who use post office boxes were initially excluded from the coupon program over concerns about possible fraud.

Applicants who use a post office box will be able to request two coupons through the normal application process. They will be required to provide their physical residence in addition to their post office box number.

To guard against fraud, the address of each applicant will be checked against a third-party database to assist in validating eligibility, the agency said.