The switch to DTV is a government plot. No, really.
We admit it, as broadcasters we want to take advantage of modern technology, we want to offer all the amazing features of digital TV, we want to enliven your TV experience. In exchange for helping broadcasters with the transition, Uncle Sam wants something from us.
The federal government sells TV stations 6 megahertz (Mhz) of bandwidth to broadcast our NTSC signal. Remember we mentioned that DTV sends a lot more information than NTSC signals. It does that using the same 6 Mhz.
Congress and then-President Clinton made the move to digital a federal law. To get TV stations to go along, the government agreed to loan every TV station an extra channel using the existing spectrum of TV channels, 2 through 58 (if you're not skipping sections, you'll remember that channel 2 is broadcasting digital signals on channel 23). This allows TV stations to broadcast NTSC and DTV simultaneously until the transition is complete.
But broadcasters aren't getting something for nothing.
For one thing, the electricity bill for operating two TV transmitters simultaneously-- one for NTSC, one for DTV-- is enormous.
More importantly, once the digital transition is complete, the government wants one of those channels back. Uncle Sam intends those frequencies for other uses, like auctioning them off to the highest bidder in the cellular phone industry. TV stations can decide which channel to give back.
Uncle Sam will reclaim that bandwidth in February, 2009.
Of course, when the transition is completed, if you're in the 15 percent that hasn't switched yet you will no longer receive TV programs over-the-air. In the 1950's when television was new, a lot of people went to their neighbors' house to watch it.