The Digital TV Transition: A Brief Overview

RS22217 -- The Digital TV Transition: A Brief Overview

Updated February 15, 2006


During the first session of the 109th Congress, policymakers sought to accelerate the nation's transition to digital television and to expedite the transfer of radio frequency channels from the broadcast industry to public safety and commercial users no later than 2009. Broadcasters are holding spectrum in the 700 megahertz (MHZ) band (channels 52-69) that they would be required to relinquish after the transition to digital television (DTV) is achieved. Without a hard deadline, the transition to digital television has been postponed. Meanwhile, public safety officials want 700 MHZ spectrum that has been assigned to them, but not delivered, in order to build new interoperable networks, while the commercial wireless industry would like access to the spectrum for new services.

Legislative language to clear spectrum and facilitate the transition to digital televison was included in both the House and Senate FY2005 budget reconciliation bills (H.R. 4241/S. 1932). The final version of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171) sets the digital transition deadline at February 17, 2009, and allocates up to $1.5 billion for a digital-to-analog converter box program. P.L. 109-171 does not include provisions on "downconversion," nor does it address the debate over expanding "must carry" rules to include multicasting must carry. The enacted legislation also does not include provisions on the "broadcast flag." This report will not be updated.