That loud clunking noise you heard a little while ago was the NTIA’s DTV converter coupon program hitting its upper spending limit. That’s right, it appears that all of the $1.34 billion allocated by Congress has been sucked up by DTV coupons already issued. So NTIA has announced that, until Congress slips it some more cash (or until it hits the Powerball), anyone sending in for a DTV coupon will be placed on a waiting list. Don’t call them, they’ll call you.

This is obviously disappointing news for anyone who held off until the last minute (maybe they expected Santa to leave coupons in their stockings), but it should not have been unexpected. The coupon program, already strained a couple of months ago, saw a huge uptick in requests in December. As a result of the overall numbers since the program started last year, NTIA is not currently in a position to issue any more new coupons. Instead, it will have to wait for already-issued coupons to expire (they have a 90-day shelf-life, use-‘em-or-lose-‘em; the expiration date is printed on the face of each coupon), which will then free up funds to cover the issuance of new coupons. NTIA estimates that about 350,000 coupons expire, unused, each week – but in December alone NTIA received new requests for more than seven million coupons, so late-requesters are probably in for a wait.

Of course, Congress could come to the rescue with additional funds. That may be in the works, but in the current transition mode between administrations, it’s likely to be difficult to get that particular spigot opened up in the immediate future. NTIA did indicate that, as matters now stand, if you are only just now filing for your coupons, you will almost certainly not receive them before February 17.

Meanwhile, if you are among the lucky ones who already have coupons, here’s a CommLawBlog tip. When you go to use your coupons, don’t cough them up until you are absolutely sure that you’re ordering what you want. One of our colleagues had the unhappy experience of ordering a couple of converters online. At the start of the transaction the merchant asked for the coupon info and PIN, which our trusting colleague provided. It turned out that other terms of the transaction (e.g., shipping costs) were not to our guy’s liking and he bailed on the deal, meaning that he did not buy any converters. But when he tried to use his coupons elsewhere, he found out, much to his chagrin, that the coupons showed up in the system as having already been cashed in. Oops.