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Digital TV: Get the Picture

January 8, 2008
Weekly Columns

In just a little over a year there will be a big change in the way television is broadcast. By February 17, 2009, every television set in America will need to be digital television (DTV) compatible to continue to receive local broadcast programming. On that day in February, all full-power television stations will stop broadcasting analog signals and continue their broadcasts in an exclusively digital format. While next February may seem a long time away, broadcasters are working to prepare the public ahead of time to help consumers get the education and equipment they need to successfully complete the DTV transition.

Many people are asking why the DTV transition is happening in the first place.  In general, converting to a digital service will give the public more choice, better sound and picture quality and give broadcasters a more efficient way to deliver program content.  But, there are other benefits to the transition as well.  For example, after the transition, more communication channels will be open for police, fire and rescue personnel to communicate during an emergency.  The television experience will be better for Americans since television transmissions will be clearer and users will have access to expanded digital and high-definition programming.

Overall the transition from analog broadcasting to digital will affect over 34 million households and 70 million television sets.  But, changing to the digital signal will not require every consumer to purchase a new television set or subscribe to HDTV to watch the latest format.  Individuals who receive over-the-air programming through an antenna - or "rabbit ears," will only need a digital-to-analog converter box that will be available in stores early this year.  The National Telecommunications Administration is offering a coupon to help pay for the cost of the converter box.  Details about the coupon program can be found at www.dtv2009.gov or by calling 1-888-DTV-2009.

Consumers who have recently purchased new television sets, or those who subscribe to cable or satellite may avoid having to purchase the digital-to-analog converter box altogether.  Most new TV's come with a built-in digital tuner that is DTV compatible even if it uses an antenna to receive broadcasts.  Individuals who subscribe to cable and satellite TV services should continue to receive their programming after the February 19 deadline but may want to check with their providers to see if they will be provided any additional compatibility equipment.  I'd encourage anyone looking for more information about the DTV transition to visit my website at https://www.cole.house.gov/digitaltv.html.