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Transition To Digital Television


Location: Washington, DC

Transition to Digital Television

On February 17th, 2009, television as we know it in the United States will cease to exist. But don't be alarmed. It will be replaced by a better alternative. In fact, the transition has already begun. The traditional system of bringing a television (TV) signal to your home uses magnetic waves to transmit a signal which becomes pictures and sound on your TV. The spectrum of analog air waves used to send TV signals are considered in the public domain, and their use is sanctioned by the federal government.

With the growth of technology, television signals can now be delivered to your home more efficiently, and in a way that produces a far better image quality on screen. Because of this advancement in technology, in 1996 Congress authorized an additional broadcast channel to each TV broadcaster so they could introduce digital television (DTV) service while they continued to broadcast an analog signal.

Then in 2006, Congress passed legislation setting a final deadline for the DTV transition of February 17, 2009. On that date, all analog broadcasting will stop.

More than 90 percent of television stations in the U.S. are already broadcasting in digital, but many customers may not be aware of it and few are aware of the February 2009 transition. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Broadcasters, 62 percent of Americans have seen, read or heard nothing about the DTV transition - and among the few who have, none could say when the transition would occur.

The DTV transition doesn't directly affect everyone - those who have a digital tuner in their television, or subscribe to cable, satellite or telephone company television service provider will continue receiving a signal when the switch happens. For those individuals that do not fall into one of these categories, it is important to know the resources available to you in order to make the switch and continue receiving a signal. This includes households that rely exclusively on over-the-air broadcasts made available through a rooftop antenna or "rabbit ears." Overall, the transition will directly impact more than 69 million television sets.

In addition to setting the February 2009 changeover date, Congress has passed legislation to make the transition smooth for people who will continue to rely on over-the-air broadcasts using analog television sets.

You will simply need to obtain a DTV converter box that will convert the digital signal into analog for an existing analog television set. The DTV converter box, sometimes referred to as a set-top box, is an electronic device that makes the new digital signal viewable on an older analog television set. Converter boxes will be available for purchase in early 2008 and are expected to cost between $50 and $70. To help cover the cost of the converter box, the federal government will offer two converter box coupons, valued at $40 each, to eligible households beginning early next year.

Each coupon may be used toward the purchase of a single converter box, and the coupon program will be administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce. You will still need basic antennas in addition to the converter box to receive a digital signal on analog television sets, but current antennas will work the same as before. For more information about the converter box coupon program, visit

Eligible consumers are encouraged to apply early for the converter box coupons. If you choose to purchase a new television set between now and the changeover date, it will most likely have a digital converter, but it is a good question to ask. By raising awareness of the changeover to digital television, I hope to make the transition smooth as we welcome a new and better era of television.

Additional information about the DTV transition is available at

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