Published on Digital Development

Digital TV transition. Now what?

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Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting Systems by Country 


Many people think that the transition to digital television (DTV) is not an urgent need in developing countries. The argument is that in the case of Europe and the US, the existence of many broadcasting channels transmitting in UHF, high penetration of cable, and a strong demand for additional spectrum for wireless communications created a strong case for the migration. It is true that by migrating to digital television spectrum usage is more efficient and thus creates the so-called "digital dividend", including spectrum in the 700MHz band that could be auctioned (the FCC in the US held such an auction in 2008). However, the argument goes, DTV transition implies a very high public investment, and, in the case of many developing countries, the 700MHz spectrum could be auctioned just by migrating some (few) existing channels, without a migration to DTV. What's the hurry? Let's wait and see, they say, until cost of adoption comes down or migration becomes a necessity.

Not many countries seem to believe this though, as the map above (provided by Wikipedia) shows. It is important to note that in most cases a date for the analog switch-off (that is, the day from which all TV signals are to be broadcasted in digital format) is set along with the selection of the DTV standard. Now, after looking at the complicated transition to DTV in the US - including the need for the DTV Delay Act and the problems with the final transition - it is probably a good idea for these countries to think about their own transition process. Compare the map above with the following:

Digital Television Transition Process


Legend:     Transition completed, all analog signals terminated     Transition completed for full-power signals only; LPTV stations still being broadcast in analog     Transition in progress, broadcasting both analog and digital signals     Transition not yet started, broadcasting analog signals only

     No information available


Some issues that come to mind when thinking about the transition and that are of course worth considering are: (i) set-top boxes for the segment of population that do not have a TV set that can receive the digital signal - including of course logistics of distribution; (ii) coordination with private sector to reach the analog switch-off date - simulcast period, investments in transmission infrastructure, etc; and (iii) public investment needed in those countries with one or more public TV station.


This is of course a non-exhaustive list. Our only concern is that many deadlines are being set without a clear roadmap. After all, as Charles Kenny wrote: "Indeed, television, that 1920s technology so many of us take for granted, is still coming to tens of millions with a transformative power -- for the good -- that the world is only now coming to understand".


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