The United States Federal communications Commission confirmed that the deadline for the nationwide switch to digital television will still be next year.

At the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Kevin Martin said Tuesday that the February 2009 deadline would be a hard deadline, and

postponement would dis-incentivize the industry's transition.

Having an actual date certain is important to allow people to prepare for it and start rolling out services, said the FCC Chairman. It's critical for us to go forward without any kind of movement on the calendar.

The switch will free up the 700mhz frequency band that is currently used by broadcast television for civic improvements, Martin said, including communications between fire and police departments, and other public safety works.

Consumers should also expect better picture quality and more interactivity as they switch over to digital networks.

This month the FCC plans to begin auctioning off the spectrum to bidders, and impose buildout requirements that will ensure that auction winners will actually put the spectrum to use, Martin said.

About 50 percent of all homes in the U.S. now have digital TVs, and the Consumer Electronics Association forecasts that nearly 28 million digital TVs will be bought in the U.S. this year.

CES, the industry's largest expo, is slated to take place all this week.

See full coverage from International CES 2008