The analog to digital switch in the U.S. has been a rather confusing and chaotic one. The idea of mandating all stations to instantly cut off analog broadcasts overnight alarmed some, who point out that other countries phased out analog state by state or by province gradually.
The key point of contention was the government's DTV converter coupon program. The program offered those with analog TV sets free coupons for converters which would allow their TVs to receive digital signals. The problem was that the government underestimated the demand for the coupons, and quickly ran out of them. Thus, the bipartisan-backed decision was made to delay the transition from the planned date of February 17 to June 12.
The good news is that the government finally appears to be close to solving the coupon shortage problem, thanks to the new stimulus bill. Government officials say that the coupon waiting list of 4 million households should be cleared in 2 to 3 weeks. This is fortunate as many stations are switching over early, sticking to the original February 17 date. An estimated 10 to 20 million households have older analog sets which cannot receive digital broadcasts without a converter box.
The switch to digital has many benefits including free up air space for public safety official and the improvement of viewing quality. It also netted the government $20B USD in profits from a wireless spectrum auction, and allowed the government to at last offer the much-desired "white-space" spectrum -- gaps between TV channels -- for use.
While many are upset about the switch being delayed, the wait may actually have a positive economic effect by increasing the number of new cable customers. Stanford Washington Research analyst Paul Gallant says that cable companies like Comcast Corp, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV Group, EchoStar Corp, Mediacom Communications, and Charter Communications are using the extra time to encourage more customers to switch to cable packages, one way of preparing for the digital switch.