Displeased with digital converter box purchases
Q: I bought two Magnavox digital converter boxes Jan. 13 at a local retailer. I used my two $40 government coupons to help pay for them.
A friend stopped by and showed me a story from some newspaper about this model. I was very upset by what I learned.
I took the boxes back to the store in Pinellas Park where I bought them, but they refused to give me a credit for the coupon value. They gave me a very rough time. Then I took them to the store in St. Petersburg and a similar thing happened there. They sent me back to the store where I bought the boxes.
Management argued that the value of the coupon was not due me; it wasn't my money. They would only credit the $18 plus tax that I paid out of pocket. I asked if they would give the remaining $80 back to the government, but they said no. It wasn't required.
Well, if it isn't my money, it's not theirs either.
Now I have two faulty converter boxes that have never even been opened and no way to buy new ones since I can't get more coupons.
Is there a law that protects consumers from stores like this?
A: There are really two issues at play here, your "faulty" converter boxes and the retailer's refusal to refund the value of your government coupons.
The article your friend gave you was published in the Tampa Tribune on Feb. 7. It reviewed five converter boxes currently on the market and rated the model you bought as "worst performing." That's not the same as faulty or defective, but I understand your concern.
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the coupon program, the coupons have no cash value. Therefore, if a customer returns a converter box, he can only expect to be refunded or credited the amount he paid.
Despite what the manager told you, the store can't keep the money it receives from the government if a box is returned.
Retailers are "required to let us know if they have a returned unit," said Bart Forbes, media representative for NTIA. They're monitored as part of the waste, fraud and abuse program the government has "built into our system," he added. Unit numbers from the boxes are also tracked.
Then the money goes back into the program, so new coupons can be issued.
If you're unwilling to try the model you originally bought, why not choose another available from the retailer and see if an exchange can be made?
Visit these Web sites to learn more:
Independent ratings on converter boxes: www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/tvs-services/digital-tv-converter/overview/dtv-converter-box-guide.htm
Government coupon program: www.dtv2009.gov
How to pick a new digital TV set that is right for you: www.dtv.gov/shopgde.hmtl
A list of eligible converter boxes: www.ntiadtv.gov/home.cfm
Certified digital TV converter box retailers: www.dtv2009.gov/VendorSearch.aspx
What kind of outdoor antenna is best for receiving DTV broadcasts? www.antennaweb.org