Today marks the deadline for broadcasters throughout the United States to switch their signals from analog to digital, a move that's been debated, decried and delayed by the government, broadcasters and viewers alike.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has heavily promoted the switch to digital TV, with acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps encouraging the move by pointing out that the transition will allow stations to provide more free over-the-air channels than the single channel they've been using under the analog system.

Still, even after Congress delayed the cutover date from February 17 to June 12 in order to give viewers without cable, satellite or digital televisions more time to buy and install a digital converter box, an estimated 2.8 million American households, or 2.5 percent of the television market, are "completely unready" for the transition, according to the Nielsen Company.

Calls have poured in to TV stations as analog viewers lost their signals. The New York Times reports that an hour after WAFB, the CBS affiliate in Baton Rouge, La., switched at 7 a.m. Central time the station's center was "going crazy," with a lot of people saying they didn't know anything about the switch. The Houston Chronicle reports that 45 minutes after local stations turned off analog signals, the phones were "still ringing off the hook at KHOU (Channel 11)," as callers wanted to know how to set up converter boxes, where to find them, and how to get the $40 coupons from the government to purchase a box.

The FCC reports that it has distributed 59 million $40 coupons for TV converter boxes, and that about 31 million of those coupons were actually redeemed. The agency will continue to offer TV converter box coupons through July 31, or until it runs out of them.

To help viewers who missed the deadline clue in on what's happening, the FCC has given permission to 118 stations in 85 markets nationwide to participate in the analog "nightlight" program, allowing them to continue operating their stations in analog on their analog channels through July 12. Don't expect to be able to tune into your favorite programs though. Stations are permitted to broadcast nothing more than a screen in analog that includes text or possibly audio to viewers that tells them how they can switch to digital.

Those who still need help with the switch can contact the FCC at 1-888-CALL-FCC.

Image © Ryan Lane