After February 17, 2009, full-power television stations will broadcast in digital only. In 1996, the U.S. Congress authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each broadcast TV station so that they could start a digital broadcast channel while simultaneously continuing their analog broadcast channel. Later, Congress mandated that February 17, 2009, would be the last day for full-power television stations to broadcast in analog. The switch from analog to digital broadcast television is referred to as the digital TV (DTV) transition. Broadcast stations in all U.S. markets are currently broadcasting in both analog and digital.
Digital broadcasting allows stations to offer improved picture and sound quality, and digital is much more efficient than analog. For example, rather than being limited to providing one analog program, a broadcaster is able to offer a super sharp “high definition” (HD) digital program or multiple “standard definition” (SD) digital programs simultaneously through a process called “multicasting.” Multicasting allows broadcast stations to offer several channels of digital programming at the same time, using the same amount of spectrum required for one analog program. So, for example, while a station broadcasting in analog on channel 7 is only able to offer viewers one program, a station broadcasting in digital on channel 7 can offer viewers one digital program on channel 7-1, a second digital program on channel 7-2, a third digital program on channel 7-3, and so on. This means more programming choices for viewers. Further, DTV can provide interactive video and data services that are not possible with analog technology.
For viewers who have one or more televisions that receive free over-the-air programming (with a roof-top antenna or “rabbit ears” on the TV), the type of TV you own is very important. A digital television (a TV with an internal digital tuner) will allow you to continue to watch free over-the-air programming after February 17, 2009. However, if you have an analog television, you will need a digital-to-analog converter box to continue to watch broadcast television on that set. This converter box will also enable you to see any additional multicast programming that your local stations are offering. Households that receive their programming through cable or satellite are unaffected by this change.
To help consumers with the DTV transition, the U.S. Government established the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a part of the Department of Commerce, administers this program. Every U.S. household is eligible to receive up to two coupons, worth $40 each, toward the purchase of eligible digital-to-analog converter boxes. The coupons may only be used for eligible converter boxes sold at participating consumer electronics retailers, and the coupons must be used at the time of purchase. Manufacturers estimate that digital-to-analog converter boxes will sell from $40 to $70 each. This is a one-time cost. For more information on the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program and to request a coupon, visit the NTIA’s Web site at www.dtv2009.gov, or call 1-888-388-2009 (voice) or 1-877-530-2634 (TTY). Note that the coupons expire 90 days after being mailed, so only request a coupon if you are confident that you will use them within 90 days.