The deadline for television broadcasters to complete the transition from analog to digital television (DTV) is only two years away.
But while the vast majority of television stations nationwide are already broadcasting in digital, the majority of Americans are completely unaware of the federally mandated transition, according to research by the National Association of Broadcasters.
Broadcasters have been preparing for the transition to digital television since the late 1990s, when they began building digital facilities and airing digital channels alongside regular analog broadcasts.
Today, more than 1,500 television stations nationwide offer digital programming. In Utah, 16 high-power television stations out of 19 are already broadcasting in digital.
But while television stations are successfully making the transition, consumers remain unaware.
According to research commissioned by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), 62% of consumers have "seen, read or heard nothing" about the DTV transition, and only four percent of respondents were able to identify 2009 as the year the transition would occur.
To increase consumer awareness of the February 17, 2009 transition to digital television, the NAB has hired a four-person digital television transition team that will spearhead a national campaign to help consumers prepare for the transition.
"We're running our consumer awareness campaign like a political campaign, with a great candidate in DTV and an election on February 17, 2009," said Jonathan Collegio, vice president of the NAB's DTV transition team.
"Unfortunately, our candidate has very little name ID. Our goal is to ensure that every American knows about the DTV transition and that no consumer loses television reception in February 2009 due to a lack of information about the switchover."
More than 34 million households receive over-the-air television signals in their homes and will be affected by the end of analog broadcasting on February 17, 2009.
Consumers who receive free, over-the-air broadcasting exclusively on analog sets will have three options for continuing their television service:
Purchase a set-top converter box that will convert the digital signal into analog for an existing television set;
Purchase a new television set with a built-in-digital tuner; or
Subscribe to cable, satellite or a telephone company television service provider.
Congress has appropriated up to $1.5 billion to be spent on a coupon program for consumers who choose the option of purchasing converter boxes.
The program is being administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and beginning January 1, 2008, households will be able to request up to two coupons valued at $40 each to go toward the purchase of a single set-top converter box.
The transition from analog to digital television represents the most significant advancement of television technology since color TV was introduced.
Digital broadcasting makes more efficient use of the spectrum, making it possible for stations to broadcast multiple programming streams simultaneously within the same amount of spectrum and offer superb clarity of picture and sound through high definition television (HDTV).
The transition to digital will also free up the airwaves for first responders in cases of emergencies.
"Consumers in many markets are already enjoying the benefits of digital television, including crystal-clear programming, more channel choices and better sound quality," said Collegio.