Weather might delay digital TV test

Federal regulators are monitoring plans for an important test that could disrupt television service for some N.C. viewers in the path of Tropical Storm Hanna.

Wilmington is acting as a test market for the national conversion to digital broadcasting. The city's four commercial network affiliates will stop broadcasting an analog signal at noon Monday, leaving viewers unready for the change unable to watch those channels.

Hanna, with 65 mph winds and torrential downpours, was expected to come ashore between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach late Friday or early today. A more dangerous storm, Ike, churns through the Bahamas.

The storms worry some emergency planners who might need to broadcast emergency messages to the public.

The Federal Communications Commission said any decision to postpone the TV test would be announced before 2 p.m. Sunday.

Broadcasters in Wilmington volunteered to transmit only digital signals months before the congressionally mandated national changeover. FCC member Michael Copps suggested the early test to identify potential problems.

All full-power television stations are required to stop broadcasting analog programming on Feb. 17. Viewers who receive programming through an antenna and do not own newer-model digital TV sets must buy a converter box. The government is providing two $40 coupons per household that can be used to buy these boxes.

Even with the necessary TV converter equipment, viewers using battery-operated televisions in areas that lose electricity during the storms won't be able to watch TV broadcasts because the converters themselves require power.

The FCC said it selected Wilmington for the test because all commercial stations there are digital-ready. The area's PBS station, WUNJ, will continue to broadcast both analog and digital signals.