Citizen Service Award Blog

TV Converter Box Coupon Program

Posted on: February 12, 2010

Question 1: The TV Converter Box Coupon Program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), engaged more than 34 million households in only 19 months, making it one of the most broadly accessed Federal benefit programs. It issued 64 million $40 coupons to help television viewers make the transition from analog to digital broadcast television. NTIA leveraged a $5 million consumer education budget into over $1.4 billion in free advertising. The call center handled 51 million calls and consumers applied through the website for 20 million coupons. 78% of those surveyed who used the program rated it excellent or good.

Question 2: NTIA targeted five population groups who rely on broadcast television: seniors; low-income Americans; rural residents; people with disabilities; and minorities. By working with 300 business, non-profit, and government organizations such as National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), NAACP, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Community Action Partnership, The Grange, National Association of Broadcasters, Univision, and the Veterans Administration, NTIA’s message was effectively conveyed to these vulnerable populations by trusted partners. Meals on Wheels volunteers, for example, distributed information, helped them apply for coupons and in many cases, installed the box when it arrived.

After Congress extended the transition date and the Coupon Program in February 2009, NTIA refocused its efforts to the 18 cities with the highest percentage of unprepared households as reported by Nielsen, a research company. NTIA then conducted focus groups to help determine why certain households from our target groups were still unready for digital television. To improve citizen engagement, NTIA used specially designed tactics targeted to reach those audiences that remained unready including:
Transit Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Outdoor advertising companies posted PSAs for buses (interior and exterior) and bus shelters. The total monthly ridership on transit that displayed the PSAs was 59.6 million and the daily effective circulation (average number of adults that pass by transit shelters where PSAs were displayed) was 44.9 million.
Mobile Assistance Centers (MACs). NTIA provided on-the-ground assistance with coupon applications and technical assistance, for example, on how to hook up converter boxes. The MACs executed 248 events over a five-week period and involved more than 43,000 consumers.
Partner-based paid advertising. NTIA purchased 30- and 60-second radio ads aired on American Urban Radio network, Hispanic Communications Network and Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. These spots ran on more than 700 radio stations and reached 78 million listeners. In addition, an ad ran on television screens in more than 150 Asian grocery stores, restaurants, in some of the 18 target cities with high Asian populations. These digital ads were estimated to have reached 6.4 million Asian Americans.
Electronic Awareness Campaign. The social media campaign involved projecting an electronic billboard onto a building in a high-traffic area. The rotating billboard content included directions to MACs and the DTV deadline information. NTIA also posted DTV related questions and provide a toll-free number where the public could text their answers which were displayed on the billboard in real time. The initiative, which ran in 10 markets in conjunction with the MACs, generated word of mouth engagement from passersby.

Throughout the Program, all consumer materials were prepared and made available in English and Spanish versions. In addition to English and Spanish applications were also available in Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and other languages. The call-in center provided assistance in over twenty languages. Consumers could apply for coupons through NTIA’s website, both in English and Spanish at, by phone at 1-888-388-2009, or by mail or by fax.

Question 3: Consumers could request coupons using three channels: through our website, through a toll-free number, and using paper (by mail or fax.) The largest, most complex challenge was to improve service at NTIA’s consumer call center to handle exceptionally large call volume. The website worked well and requests for 20.5 million coupons were made through this channel. We knew, however, that many of our targeted populations did not have access to the internet or would be uncomfortable trying to use the website. The call center was essential to Program success and handled more than 51.7 million calls. Customer service call center operations were contracted under a fixed-price performance based contract with measurable service level standards. Notably, all calls into the call center were answered by the IVR within 20 seconds, the contract service level.

NTIA encouraged the contractor to make improvements in the call center. Performance data showed low application completion rate using the IVR resulting in many transfers to live agents; longer than expected average call length; and agents handling many lengthy calls unrelated to coupon requests. The contractor modified the call center to: revamp the IVR to focus on coupon orders, using touch tone instead of speech; route all Spanish calls to agents; use special handling for cell phone callers; change agent hours to high volume 8 a.m. to midnight and drop low volume overnight hours; and adjust the agent queue length and hold messages. The success was quantifiable:
IVR coupon application success rate improved 12%
Automated address lookup success rate improved more than 20%
Agent coupon order throughput increased by 10%
Average call length dropped from more than 3 minutes to less than 2 minutes
Repeat calls decreased as a percentage of total calls by more than 25%
Less than 2% of callers heard the after hours message

In 2009, the Coupon Program faced challenges when demand for coupons skyrocketed. In just November and December 2008, 5 million coupons were requested and the call center received 14.5 million calls. Funding limitations required the Program to fill requests from a waiting list. In February, Congress acted to move the end of the transition to June 2009 and extend the coupon request period through July 31, 2009. NTIA quickly modified its rules, eliminated the waiting list, and started to replace expired coupons. The extension allowed NTIA to focus on the remaining 6 million households that were not ready by February. We expanded customer support coordination with the FCC, who helped consumers with signal reception issues and other questions. Consumer education messages were modified to explain that the analog shut down would finally take place on June 12, 2009 and consumers could request replacement coupons if theirs had previously expired. All Program customer service
materials, website, call center FAQs and partners responded quickly to these changes. By June 12, Nielsen reported that 97%, or 110.5 million, television households were prepared for the transition.

Question 4: NTIA regularly reviewed and updated the consumer information available through its FAQs. On a daily basis, the Program updated the searchable retailer database so that consumers could find a retailer near you with converters in stock. In May 2009, the Program required its contractor to improve the website and call center to enable consumers to appeal an application denial more quickly and directly. Perhaps most significantly, in 2009 NTIA and the FCC worked very closely to integrate their consumer support operations. Both agencies implemented a call transfer capability, both websites included links to the other agency, and FCC agents were given scripts that included information about the coupon program, applications, and appeals.

7 Responses to "TV Converter Box Coupon Program"

I did not require a converter box, but various family members did. Went very smoothly for them. Mr. Barry Forbes, NTIA Spokesman did an outstanding job in explaining the program in his Youtube video (held during CES). He also was interviewed by various television stations in El Paso Texas. He is outstanding and hope to see more of him explaining NTIA upcoming programs. He is a true asset for the Agency.

The Converter Box Coupon Program was a splendid example of a successful public/private partnership. NTIA executives were consistently open, accessible, and communicative with all of the members of the industry-based DTV Transition Coalition that was formed to educate all Americans about the television transition. The agency regularly sought informal as well as formal feedback from all stakeholders and worked hard to accommodate all interests. Even more importantly, managers of the program went to extraordinary lengths to reach out to, and communicate with, groups at particularly high risk of losing television service. As a result of NTIA’s work and the success of the Coupon Program, disruptions in television service were held to a minimum around the country, and losses of TV service in all cases were short-lived. The Coupon Program was a key ingredient in the success of the DTV Transition and the conduct of the program is a fine model for public/private partnerships of the future.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to note that I am the Deputy Assistant Secretary at NTIA, but I wanted to write in support of the Converter Box Coupon Program award application. The DTV Converter Box Coupon Program was unprecedented. The team was innovative, dedicated, and energetic. The team was very resourceful in working with stakeholders at every level, developing public/private partnerships, using grassroots organizations, and ensuring that consumers had access to both the coupons and information about the digital television conversion. I am proud to support this award nomination.

As the former Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary, I saw firsthand the incredible work the Converter Box Coupon Program Team did. A program such as this had never been done, and there was considerable concern over whether the transition would be smooth. Watching the Coupon Program Team work on this program was a perfect example of civil servant dedication. The challenges of dealing with vulnerable population groups along with overall consumer education were significant. The Team met each of these challenges by working with stakeholder groups or other involved parties to ensure that the digital transition was successful. The success of this transition impacted many areas, including improvement in public safety communications The Team should be very proud and is very deserving of this award.

It was a pleasure to work as a member of the Coupon Program team by assisting converter box manufacturers seeking certification of their products’ eligibility for purchase with government coupons. NTIA established technical standards with the collaborative input of the consumer electronics and broadcast industries. Within several months of the standards’ adoption, manufacturers began making a brand new consumer electronic device sold by thousands of participating retailers. NTIA’s leadership resulted in the extraordinary cooperation between government and the private sector that enabled millions of consumers to transition smoothly from analog to digital television. The Coupon Program team’s dedication to ensuring a successful transition especially for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens demonstrates the best of federal service and merits the recognition of the Citizen Service Award.

Very glad to see that this program has received the recognition that it clearly deserved for the Team’s outstanding work. In several decades of working –from the private sector (until just recently)– with numerous federal agencies, this is the finest example I have seen of agency professionals who were energized by their contact with the public, who were very creative in their outreach and partnership activities, who listened, who responded quickly and effectively, who sought out ideas and innovative approaches, and who made course corrections as necessary. It was a pleasure to work with and learn from the program, and then adapt it for activities in our own jurisdiction in Virginia. Bravo, and truly well done!

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  • Randall (Scotty) Scott: Very glad to see that this program has received the recognition that it clearly deserved for the Team's outstanding work. In several decades of worki
  • citizenserviceaward: I have referred your question to this program's Consumer Education Director.
  • Karen Trebon: good compatibility with mobile devices, like the mashups for citizens to get driving directions, traffic cams, good stats. on increase in repeat visit
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