After years of development and planning, and following on the heels of a four-month, last-minute reprieve, all U.S. full-power broadcast television stations converted to digital operations in mid-June 2009. As one U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner boasted, "for TV broadcasting, it was a final farewell to the Dinosaur Age and the dawn of the Digital Age." Prior to the transition, the U.S. government made available coupons towards the purchase of converter boxes for those viewers whose analog-only TV receivers were not connected to cable or satellite delivery systems. In addition to broadcast and on-line consumer education initiatives, the FCC also manned walk-in and call-in centers to assist viewers confused by or unprepared for the transition. Post-transition, the FCC continues to sort out channel and power changes necessary to overcome poor reception experienced by a minority of digital stations. Also, low power broadcast stations, a secondary service subject to displacement, continue for the time being to have the option to operate either in analog or digital mode.
The digital transition allows multicasting of video streams by over-the-air broadcasters, as well as higher quality video and audio delivery. Each licensed broadcast station has the choice of whether to multicast several video programs over the same data stream, or to use the additional capacity for high-definition programming. "Must carry" rights on cable systems are limited to the digital TV station's primary video stream. Digital TV stations can require broadcast satellite systems to carry their digital signal in markets in which the system is providing any local-into-local service; satellite carriage of high definition digital signals will be phased-in.
The planned digital transition also freed up spectrum in the 700 MHz band. The FCC set aside 10 megahertz of this spectrum for fire, police and other public safety uses. The remaining 98 megahertz was auctioned. The U.S. government reaped over US $19 billion in its 2008 auction of this spectrum. Among announced uses, Qualcomm has decided to deploy its MediaFLO network (a broadcast mobile TV platform for streaming video and audio, clipcasting media, IP datacasting, and interactive services) with its 700 MHz spectrum, and ATT and Verizon Wireless plan to use their acquired spectrum for Long Term Evolution ("LTE") 4G wireless networks.
Many countries in the world are planning to switch off analog broadcasting in the next two years and are studying the U.S. experience in order to better understand how the U.S. organized the process in order to minimize consumer disruption.