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      Thousands apply for DTV coupon

      The government is giving away free converter box coupons, like these.

      Charles Schoental, of Jefferson City, recently bought a digital converer box with the help of a government coupon.

      He's one of 50,000 people in mid-Missouri who have already applied for the discount. Schoental is acting early because converter boxes are expected to get harder and harder to find as the switch to all-digital takes place next year.

      Schoental still receives his TV signal over the air with an analog set. Like many people whose TVs still use either "rabbit ears" or rooftop antennas, his television set won't work after Feb. 17, 2009 without a converter box.

      Making the switch easier on your wallet

      Congress has made it easier for Charles Schoental, and millions of others, to afford a converter box through a special coupon program.

      Any household can apply for two $40 coupons that can be used toward the purchase of digital TV converter boxes. The boxes will plug into your current TV and allow your set to function after the switch to DTV.

      So who's eligible for the coupon? Right now only households, not businesses can apply for this government card. All requests must be received by March 31, 2009.

      How it all works

      Here's how it works: The government has about 22 million coupons to give away to anyone. They're called "coupons" but they actually look more like a credit card.

      Once they're gone the government will then give away 11 million more. But only to customers who receive their signal over the air from an antenna, not through a cable system or satellite company.

      It's first come, first serve.

      Most converter boxes go for about $60, the government rebate will knock $40 off that. So, most consumers will end up paying about $20-25 with taxes.

      The coupons generally take about three to four weeks to arrive, according to the US Department of Commerce. The coupons have a 90-day expiration date printed on the back of the card.

      It's also important to keep in mind that the coupons are only redeemable at the time of purchase. There is no rebate program.

      So far, 700,000 coupons have been requested across the state. Of those, 300,000 have been redeemed. In mid-Missouri, 21,000 coupons have been redeemed out of 50,000 that have been requested.

      How to get your $40 discount card

      There are a number of ways you can get your government coupon.

      • There's a 24-hour hotline that you can call: 888-DTV-2009 (888-388-2009)
      • You can fax your application: 877-DTV-4ME2 (877-388-4632)
      • You can mail your application: PO BOX 2000, Portland, OR 97208
      • You can apply online at