A milestone was reached this past week in Congress by the House's Energy and Commerce Committee along with the Senate panel in setting a firm deadline of April 7, 2009 requiring television stations to switch to all-digital broadcasts, and requiring that the airwaves be returned to the government. In turn, the government would sell off some of the wireless spectrum for $10 billion or more, while the remainder would be used for emergency responders. The legislation, which also has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, still has to clear the full Senate. This legislation also has to be merged with the bill in the House, and signed into law before it would take effect. It seems to have gain universal support including that of the Consumer Electronics Association.
In order for existing analog (non-digital) television sets to work after April of 2009, a converter box that costs about $50 would be required. In turn, Thomson and LG Electronics are each developing prototype of these set-top boxes for analog sets, which is supported by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). This is part of the NAB'S "No viewer left behind" philosophy. The Senate panel also approved subsidies of up to $3 billion to help low-income people buy these set-top boxes. However, it should be noted that it's also a lot of effort that is going into these analog sets. I say this because it only affects about 10-percent of the viewers of over-the-air programs. Cable and satellite users will not be affected as they receive their signals from their respective provider. Any conversion process will be build directly into their respective set-top boxes.
Following these actions on the Hill, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) President and CEO Gary Shapiro responded to the actions of the Senate and the House Energy and Commerce Committee's "Committee Print" of the "Digital Television Transition Act of 2005" in setting a hard date for the end of analog television broadcasting. Mr. Shapiro noted that "The House Energy and Commerce Committee has taken a critical step toward completing our nation's transition to digital television (DTV). The House legislation appropriately reflects the needs of consumers, manufacturers, broadcasters and all others with a stake in the DTV transition, while fostering innovation and ensuring America's security. We pledge our full support in working with Chairman Barton, the Committee and other stakeholders as the legislative process moves forward and the final transition to digital television becomes a long-awaited reality." Shapiro added, "CEA also applauds the Senate Commerce Committee for passing a bill setting the hard date of the return of analog spectrum at April 7, 2009. Setting a hard cut-off date is a critical step in the process and I thank Senator Stevens and Senator Inouye for their leadership on this issue."
So, it seems that we are closer to a firm date for the cut-off date of analog TV signals than we have in the past. What's important here is that the spectrum, which is currently used for analog signals, can be re-purposed for other uses such as additional emergency channels for fire fighters and police across the country all the way to additional bandwidth for cellular and voice/data/video networking.