On Friday, the United States brought a formal end to more than 60 years of analog broadcast of television signals, when television stations across the nation complied with a Federal Communications Commission order to switch to digital transmission.
"Yesterday was a truly historic day," FCC Chairman Michael Copps said on Saturday. "Digital will do for television what it has done for every other communications technology it touches -- make it better, more efficient, more interactive, more competitive, and more exciting than ever before." He described that development as a "win-win for consumers," and one that would promote the long-term health of the broadcast industry.
The transition was originally scheduled to occur on February 17, but was postponed by Congress over concerns that millions of households were unprepared for the switch to digital transmissions. Particularly worrisome was the fact that a fund set up by Congress to subsidize converter boxes had run out of money.
Congress pumped more money into the converter box program, and newly appointed chairman Copps promised to intensify the FCC's efforts to alert viewers to the coming change.
On Saturday, Copps declared the agency's efforts a success. "In the less-than-five months we had since a new team took over," Copps said, "we cut the number of unprepared households in half. We put systems in place like in-home assistance and our National Call Center to help those who were still caught unprepared yesterday when analog transmissions stopped."
The FCC deployed a team of more than 4,000 workers to answer phone calls about the switch. Throughout the day, the FCC received a record 317,450 calls; an estimated one-third dealt specifically with the availability of analog-to-digital converter boxes.
Copps was not the only one who felt the transition was successful. Jonathan Collegio, the vice president for digital television for the National Association of Broadcasters, gave a substantial share of the credit to television stations.
"America is the first large country in the world to complete the transition to all-digital broadcasting," Collegio said, "and our early reports show that the transition has been a success. Television broadcasters, from local stations to major networks, took the lead in educating and prompting viewers to take advantage of the numerous benefits of free digital television. The broadcaster campaign elevated public awareness from 38 percent to over 98 percent in two short years."
Chairman Copps conceded that there may still be a few glitches in the days and weeks to come, but promised that the FCC would continue to assist both television stations and individual consumers.
New Uses for Spectrum
One of the factors driving the switch is that the segments of the broadcast spectrum previously used for analog television transmission can now be used for other purposes.
Early last year, the FCC auctioned off sections of the 700MHz band being freed up by the end of analog transmissions. The auction raised $19.592 billion, and the frequencies will be used to provide a variety of innovative wireless services.