On 13 June 2009, television stations in the United States stopped sending signals over the air waves and began transmitting in digital exclusively. This transition from analog over-the-air signals to digital signals was designed to improve picture quality, as well as free up channels on the broadcast spectrum to be used for public safety. Additional data could be transmitted on the digital channels by television content providers, and for most consumers, the transition from digital to analog signals was considered to be a positive change. Digital TV boxes convert the digital signals being broadcast to analog signals that can be understood by existing television sets.
Television views who received their television programs through satellite or cable did not need digital TV boxes, as the cable boxes and satellite providers were either already providing digital TV to their client base and/or decoding and converting digital signals for use on televisions. Thus, these television viewers would see little to no change from the widespread and legally mandated transition from analog to digital, with the possible exception of more high definition or digital channels. Consumers whose televisions were not able to decode digital signals, however, were in danger of losing their television service.
All televisions that were receiving programming using over-the-air signals through an antenna would no longer be able to receive those analog signals over the airwaves. While the antennae would be able to pick up digital signals, the signals would not be understood by televisions unless they had a digital converter or tuner. Although the laws also required new television sets to be equipped with digital converters, many older televisions did not have a digital tuner, and were not able to decode the signals now coming in through the new digital channels. Many consumers, understandably, did not wish to be required to purchase new television sets or subscribe to satellite or cable TV in order to continue receiving a television signal. Digital TV boxes were created to resolve this problem, and allow conversion of digital signals to analog signals so that older television sets could still understand the incoming information.
For a period of several months prior to and following the transition in June 2009, the government offered coupons to consumers to allow them to obtain digital TV boxes at little to no cost. Consumers were able to apply for these coupons online or via phone. The US Federal Communications Commission offered free installation assistance to consumers who were struggling to install their digital TV boxes.