Are you procrastinating in the switch to digital? Putting off buying your digital converter box? If so you may have a big surprise at the cashier.

You might think you did everything right. You realized you have an antenna TV. You went to the government website and ordered the coupon good for $40 off the converter box. Your set of coupons arrived in the mail. All exactly like the feds say TV watchers should.

Todd Sedmak, US Department of Commerce "We just really encourage people to request the coupons."

But go to the electronics store and buy the box?

No rush to do that, right? The switch doesn't officially happen till February of 2009.

But our investigation found millions of those converter box coupons across the country, like Jacquelyn Mercer's, are now worthless.

Jacalyn Mercer, TV viewer "A royal goof-up on he part of somebody on the federal level."

Here's the scoop–you can't wait around to use your coupon. Take a closer look– they expire 90 days after they're mailed. And the feds insist it's: use them. Or lose them.

Todd Sedmak, US Department of Commerce "Congress created the law and we're implementing the program."

But look: records we obtained reveal nationwide: Eight and a half million people who requested coupons on line or by phone now can't use them.

Joel Kelsey, Consumers Union "We believe this is a giant problem and consumers are going to be frustrated, they're right to be confused."

In the Boston area alone we found: viewers have asked for 323,000 coupons. One third of them are fine: unused but still valid. Another third were used to purchase a converter box.

But we have learned, the remaining third, more than 120,000, perhaps stuck in drawers or attached a to-do list–have expired.

Check the date on yours. Like Jacalyn your $40 gift from Uncle Sam–may be worth nothing.

Jacalyn Mercer, TV viewer "I think its crazy myself."

And when angry viewers ask the Feds for another coupon the answer is no. Federal rules only allow them to send one set per address. Period. But if your coupons have expired? Listen to this!

When Jacalyn complained, the Feds actually told her to ask friends and family who don't need coupons to order some, and then give them to her.

Now look she's got more coupons than she can use! And she's off to buy her converter. But she thinks the coupon system will leave other viewers in the dark.

Jacalyn Mercer, TV viewer "Ninety days is still not fair to the consumer. Those refund cards should be good through the whole transition."

So here's the key to making the switch work–if you need a converter box, don't procrastinate. Get a coupon now. And use it now.

(Copyright (c) 2008 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox