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Digital television (DTV) is a type of television transmission. It is one of the most significant development in television technology since the advent of color television in the 1950s. DTV can provide sharper pictures, a wider screen, CD-quality sound, better color rendition, multiple video programming or a single program of high-definition television (HDTV), and other new services currently being developed.

Statutory basis - United States[]

The Telecommunications Act of 1996[1] provided that initial eligibility for DTV licenses issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be limited to existing broadcasters. Because DTV signals cannot be received through existing analog televisions, the FCC decided to phase in DTV over a period of years, so that consumers would not have to immediately purchase new digital television sets or converters. Broadcasters were given new spectrum for digital signals, while retaining their existing spectrum for analog transmission so that they could simultaneously transmit analog and digital signals to their broadcasting market areas.

In 1997, Congress and the FCC set a target date of December 31, 2006 for broadcasters to complete their transition to DTV, cease broadcasting their analog signals, and return their existing analog television spectrum licenses to be auctioned for commercial services (such as broadband) or used for other purposes, such as public safety telecommunications.

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997[2] required the FCC to grant extensions for reclaiming the analog television licenses in the year 2006 from stations in television markets where at least 15% of television households do not receive digital signals. Given the slower-than-expected pace at which digital televisions have been introduced into American homes, virtually no observers believed that the goal of digital televisions in 85% of American homes by 2006 would be reached, with the result that television stations would continue to broadcast both analog and digital signals past the 2006 deadline for an indefinite period of time. The key issue for Congress and the FCC has been: what steps should be taken by the government to further facilitate a timely, efficient, and equitable transition to digital television?

Paramount in this debate has been setting a “hard” and “date-certain” deadline for the digital transition and addressing the millions of American over-the-air households whose existing analog televisions will require converter boxes in order to receive television service after analog signals are turned off.

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005,[3] signed by the President on February 8, 2006, resets the digital transition deadline to February 17, 2009, and allocated up to $1.5 billion for a digital-to-analog converter box subsidy program, to be administered by the Department of Commerce. The date was later extended to July 11, 2009.

Remaining digital transition issues, not addressed by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, include whether Congress should mandate or permit “must carry” requirements for digital multicasts, “down conversion” of broadcasted digital to analog signals for cable and satellite households, and copyright protection technologies such as the “broadcast flag” and the “analog hole.”


  1. Pub. L. No. 104-104.
  2. Pub. L. No. 105-33.
  3. Pub. L. No. 109-171.