Senator Hutchison Op-Ed: With DTV Deadline Looming, Not too Late to Prepare

By Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

June 9, 2009

On January 1, 1954, Americans from coast to coast witnessed the first nationwide colorcast when the Tournament of Roses Parade was aired in vivid Technicolor. This broadcast marked the arrival of the color television, something Americans have now enjoyed for over half a century. Not since that undertaking have the broadcasting industry and the federal government endeavored to roll out a technology upgrade that impacts every American household. Until now.

After years of planning and preparation, the digital television, or DTV, transition will take place on June 12, 2009.  At midnight, all of the nation’s full power broadcasters, large TV stations covering multiple cities, will switch from an analog to a digital broadcasting format. Already, about 40 percent of broadcasters have transitioned to digital, but the remaining 60 percent are required by law to changeover on Friday and discontinue broadcasting in analog format.

If you have not yet prepared for this transition, you will need to take modest measures to ensure that when you turn on your television set on Saturday morning you will still have access to basic television programming, public emergency broadcasts, such as AMBER Alerts, severe weather warnings, and other important safety messages.

Those subscribing to a cable or satellite television service should not be affected. Many newer televisions are already equipped with a digital tuner and will not require a converter box to function after the transition. However, many Texas households use older television sets and receive over-the-air programming using roof top antennas or “rabbit ears.” These TVs will need a converter box to translate the digital broadcast signal into an analog signal that an older television can display. Each television that is neither outfitted with a digital tuner nor connected to a cable or satellite service requires an independent converter box. Consumers can still purchase converter boxes at retail locations across the country, including many electronics chains throughout Texas . Consumers who still need coupons to offset the cost of a converter box may contact the U.S. Department of Commerce at 1-888-388-2009 or visit

Many Texans faced with preparations and costs may be wondering why this transition is so important – or even necessary at all.

Although it may not be as dramatic as shifting from black and white to color TV, the transition will significantly enhance the clarity of television broadcasts, resulting in less interference, sharper pictures, and better sound quality. The efficiency of digital broadcasting will also allow for new and diverse television programming.

Most importantly, transitioning to digital television, or DTV, will free up important radio frequencies, which can be reused for new communications services and safety activities that will increase the nation’s ability to respond to terrorist attacks and national disasters. Digital broadcasting will continue to transmit emergency messages, like AMBER Alerts, but some of the spectrum space will be reallocated to implement a nationwide interoperable public safety communication system to support police, fire departments, rescue squads and other first responders. The challenges facing first responders on September 11, 2001, and during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita illustrate how badly this capability is needed, and the 9/11 Commission recommended a nationwide public safety system in its final report to Congress.

I have worked hard to spread the word to all Texans through brochures, educational outreach programs, and public service announcements. Nevertheless, large numbers of Texans may still remain unprepared; including many elderly and disabled individuals as well as those facing language barriers. These are some of the reasons why I worked to delay the transition to June 12. Doing so allowed extra time for preparation and offered Texans with expired coupons, including those displaced by Hurricane Ike, the opportunity to obtain replacement coupons.

If you are prepared, please take time to assist others, particularly friends, family, and neighbors who may be unable to obtain a converter box or need assistance installing one. This technological change is an important development, but it need not be overwhelming. If we work together to ensure our own preparations and assist others with theirs, Friday, June 12 can go smoothly for the hundreds of thousands of Texans this change will impact.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas and is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.