Emergency broadcasts to remain on analog TV

Temporary signals OK'd for public safety

WASHINGTON -- U.S. regulators on Thursday approved the use of temporary traditional TV broadcasts for emergency information after the switch to digital television, even as momentum builds for extending the February 17 transition date.

Under the program cleared by the Federal Communications Commission, households that are not prepared to receive digital signals will see a notice on their screen in English and Spanish after the switch, providing a phone number for more information.

Viewers will also receive emergency weather and public safety information for 30 days after the transition.

At the same time, momentum is building for a delay, as Democratic lawmakers fear people are not ready for the conversion, affecting an estimated 20 million households who do not already use the technology.

Democrats in Congress are working on legislation to extend the date, although many Republicans oppose a delay, arguing it will create even more confusion and uncertainty.

Owners of older television sets receiving over-the-air signals must buy a converter box, replace their TV with a digital TV, or subscribe to satellite or digital cable service.

The government ran out of funding for coupons to subsidize converter boxes last week, and more than 2 million people are on a waiting list.

President-elect Barack Obama backs extending the deadline. Companies impacted by the conversion are split on the issue.

CTIA, a wireless trade association, contends a delay could "decrease confidence in the auction model for spectrum allocation."

AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications won a collective $16 billion worth of spectrum in a government auction last year that needs to be vacated for them to use.

Broadcasters, on the other hand, are seen as receptive to a delay since they want to avoid the ire of viewers who lose television signals.