Getting to February 2009: Implementing the Digital TV Transition

Background: The nations 1,600 television stations are converting from traditional analog technology to a digital television format. Digital television (DTV) is a new, more efficient technology for transmitting and receiving broadcast television signals. But DTV signals are not compatible with today's analog TV sets in most American homes. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the amount of spectrum given to television station owners was doubled. The policy rationale for this was to enable the stations to transition US consumers to digital TV without interruption of analog broadcasts. But after ten years of digital TV broadcasts, only a small number of US households have made the switch to DTV, delaying the return of valuable spectrum that could be used by emergency officials and auctioned to offset federal deficit spending.


Getting to February 2009: Implementing the Digital TV Transition

Now that President Bush has signed the Deficit Reduction Act which includes the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act (DTV Act), a clearer picture of the digital television transition is developing. The purpose of the DTV Act is to prepare US consumers for the end of free, over-the-air, analog broadcasts. Mainly, this is to be accomplished by subsidizing the purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes that will extend the life of current TVs into the age of digital TV broadcasting. Additionally, the law allows the proceeds from the auction of returned analog TV spectrum to be used for other national communications priorities.

Below is a quick outline of the timeline for implementing the new law and the requirements it makes on various government bodies — and consumers — to end analog television broadcasts in the US on February 17, 2009.

2006

September 30, 2006 Before this date the FCC is to assess and deposit in the Treasury extraordinary fees for licenses totaling $10,000,000 as offsetting receipts.

October 2006 Although not an explicit mandate of the DTV Act, Congress expects the National Telecommunications and Information Administration(1) to issue rules for a digital-to-analog converter box subsidy program within nine months, when Fiscal Year 2007 begins. The rules would cover: 1) the content and distribution of coupon request forms and coupons; 2) consumer redemption of, and retailer reimbursement for, the coupons; 3) the types of converter boxes that shall be eligible for purchase with a coupon; 4) certification, education, and auditing of retailers involved in the program; and 5) consumer and retailer appeals.(2)

October 2006 - June 30, 2008 The NTIA may borrow money from the US Treasury to begin implementing various programs mandated by the DTV Act.(3)

October 2006 -- September 2008 The NTIA is to make payments of up to $30 million to reimburse the Metropolitan Television Alliance(4) for costs incurred in the design and deployment of a temporary digital television broadcast system to ensure that New York City area broadcasters can provide the area with digital TV.

October 2006 -- September 2009 The NTIA is to make payments of no more than $43.5 million to implement the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004.(5)

October 2006 -- September 2010 Working with the Department of Homeland Security the NTIA will establish and implement a $1 billion grant program to assist public safety agencies in the acquisition of, deployment of, or training for the use of interoperable communications systems.

October 2006 -- September 2012 The NTIA is to make payments of no more than $156 million to implement a unified national alert system. The NTIA is to use $50 million to implement a tsunami warning and coastal vulnerability program.

2007

UPDATE: March 12, 2007 The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced the final rule for the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program (coupon program) designed to help consumers continue receiving free, over-the-air television when full-power television stations cease analog broadcasting after February 17, 2009, as authorized in the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 (the Act).

October 2007 -- September 2009 The NTIA is to make payments of up to $10 million to implement and administer a program through which eligible low-power television stations(6) may receive compensation toward the cost of the purchase of a digital-to-analog conversion devices that enable them to convert incoming digital TV signals of their corresponding full-power television stations to analog format for transmission on the low-power television stations' analog channels. Requests for such compensation must be made on or before February 17, 2009. Priority compensation is to be given to non-profit corporations and stations that serve rural areas of fewer than 10,000 viewers.

2008

January 1, 2008 -- March 31, 2009 US households may obtain $40 coupons towards purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes by making a request. All coupons expire 3 months after issuance. The NTIA is to ensure that each requesting household receives, via the United States Postal Service, no more than two coupons.

January 28, 2008 The FCC must conduct the auction of the licenses for recovered analog spectrum, commencing the bidding no later than this date, and is to deposit the proceeds of the auction in the US Treasury no later than June 30, 2008.

June 30, 2008 By this date, the FCC is to have deposited in the Treasury proceeds from the auction of spectrum currently used for analog TV broadcasts.

October 2008 -- September 2009 The NTIA is to make payments of no more than $65 million to implement a program to reimburse rural low-power television stations for upgrading to digital TV technology. Such reimbursements shall be issued to eligible stations no earlier than October 1, 2010. Priority compensation will be given to non-profit corporations and stations that serve rural areas of fewer than 10,000 viewers.

2009

February 17, 2009 Analog TV broadcasts from full-power TV stations in the US ends. Low-power stations, including Class A stations, may continue broadcasting in analog format after this day, subject to future decisions by the FCC on how to complete the digital television transition for such stations.

February 18, 2009 By this date the FCC must require that all TV broadcasting occur only on channels between channels 2 and 36, inclusive, or 38 and 51, inclusive (between frequencies 54 and 698 megahertz, inclusive). If low-power stations want to be compensated for digital-to-analog conversion devices, they must make request by end of day.

September 30, 2009 On the last day of Fiscal Year 2009, the Secretary of the Treasury will transfer $7.363 billion from the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Fund to the general fund of the Treasury.


Continue to Getting to February 2009: Outstanding DTV Transition Issues
Notes:
1) A part of the Department of Commerce created in 1978, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is the President's principal adviser on telecommunications and information policy issues, and in this role frequently works with other Executive Branch agencies to develop and present the Administration's position on these issues. See http://www.ntia.doc.gov/

2) The NTIA may spend up to $990 million from the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Fund through September 2009 to carry out the converter box program. It can spend up to $100 million on administrative expenses. Up to $5 million can be spent for consumer education concerning the digital television transition and the availability of the digital-to-analog converter box program. If the NTIA tells Congress that program funds are insufficient, an additional $60 million will be made available for administrative.

3) Includes Digital-to-Analog Converter Box, Public Safety Interoperable Communications, NYC 9/11 Digital Transition, Low Power TV Conversion & Upgrade, National Alert Warning, and Enhance 911 programs.

4) Organization formed by New York City television broadcast station licensees to locate new shared facilities as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the loss of use of shared facilities that housed broadcast equipment.

5) The purpose of that legislation is to coordinate 911 services and E-911 services, at the Federal, State, and local levels.

6) A low-power television broadcast station, Class A television station, television translator station, or television booster station that is itself broadcasting exclusively in analog format; and that has not purchased a digital-to-analog conversion device prior to the date of enactment of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005.