The digital transition in America is by many accounts much more aggressive than what has been tried in any other country with a significant population. The reason for the U.S. wanting to vacate the currently used analog airwaves is to make way faster for new services like mobile broadband.
While many countries have gone digital or plan to, America's transition is called one of the boldest and riskiest because it is the only large country that has tried to make the transition overnight. The original deadline for the transition was set to be February 17, a bit more than a week from now.
The U.S. House and Senate finally approved a bill that will postpone the DTV transition until June 12, 2009 to give Americans four more months to prepare. America isn’t the only country looking to vacate the precious analog spectrum used by current TV broadcasts, but we are the only one to do it all at once.
MSNBC reports that some other countries, which are much smaller than America, have opted to go digital, and have used a zoned transition approach where areas are converted one by one. Austria for example turned off analog signals over seven months in 2007 until the country was all digital with its TV broadcasts. Austria is only the size of South Carolina. Germany by comparison took five years to make the full transition area by area.
The U.S. will do its transition in one day -- sort of. The newly approved bill to delay the transition is allowing broadcasters to stick to the February 17 date for transitioning to all digital broadcasts. However, the stations can choose to wait until the June 12 date. The confusion comes in that now American's may have both digital and analog stations operating in the same market. That could mean that while a local NBC affiliate is digital, FOX could still be analog.
The problem for viewers is that if they are using a converter, not all converters offer analog pass-through to handle stations still broadcasting on the older airwaves. The U.S. has done some field testing of what the switch might turn out like. A test run was conducted in September for Wilmington, North Carolina and there were reportedly many calls to help lines, but most of the calls were from people needing help tuning into a digital specific station, as their sets were not yet digital-ready.