Rep. Lois Capps on Tuesday introduced the Short-term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness Act (SAFER) in the House of Representatives. The bill would allow for the short-term continued analog broadcast of essential information after the Feb. 18, 2009, nationwide transition to digital television, including broadcasts of emergency information.

“It’s important that we switch to DTV, but we also have to make sure that no one gets left behind,” Capps said. “The results of the recent test transition in Wilmington, N.C., demonstrated that up to 1.5 million households could find that their TVs don’t work on Feb. 18 — and that these problems will likely be concentrated among minorities and senior citizens. Since government is requiring this change, we should also be doing everything we can to make sure it is as least disruptive as possible. This common sense bill will help ensure that no one is left behind by the DTV transition.”

Under The SAFER Act, after Feb. 18 households that may not have prepared their televisions to receive digital signals would see a “slide” on their screen — in English and Spanish — informing them that the transition to digital has taken place and providing a phone number for further information on how to prepare their televisions to receive digital signals. More importantly, they also would receive emergency weather and public safety information that is broadcast over digital airwaves. The SAFER Act would ensure that this information was available for two weeks after the transition to all-digital broadcasting.

On Feb. 18, full-power broadcast stations will discontinue over-the-air transmissions using analog signals and instead use exclusively digital signals. Digital television will deliver cleaner, crisper pictures. More importantly, digital broadcasts are a more efficient use of our spectrum because they take up much less space than analog signals. This reallocation of spectrum will allow our country to move forward with one of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission: establishing a nationwide public safety network to respond to regional or national disasters.

Consumers who receive their television signal through satellite or cable won’t notice the switch. The 17 million households who rely exclusively on over-the-air analog signals, however, will need to purchase a digital converter box, which will allow their television to receive digital signals. Congress earlier allotted up to $1.5 billion to provide discount coupons for the purchase of these converter boxes. The FCC, broadcasters and others have been engaged in a multimillion-dollar campaign to inform consumers of the upcoming switch to digital.

Randolph Harrison is chief of staff for Rep. Lois Capps.