At least $1.5 billion in revenue generated by a 700 MHz auction would be earmarked for public safety if legislation passed by the Senate Commerce Committee becomes law later this year.

Under the bill, the FCC would conduct a 700 MHz auction that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will generate $10 billion from commercial bidders. The first priority for those funds would be to meet the $4.8 billion in congressional budget obligations, with an additional $200 million to be used to retire debt.

Next on the priority list is money for the transition from analog TV to digital TV. The bill calls for $3 billion to pay for a subsidy program to supply low-cost converters that let analog TVs receive digital signals, while another $200 million will pay for a program to transition low-power TV stations and translators to digital.

Most of the rest of the auction proceeds is earmarked for public-safety spending, most notably $1 billion in state and local interoperability grants. The bill also calls for $250 million for an enhanced national alert warning system and another $250 million to help fund the upgrades to the E911 system.

Although the bill schedules the 700 MHz auction for Jan. 28, 2008, public safety may not have to wait that long to receive money. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said he would propose that money be borrowed from the U.S. Treasury against the expected proceeds to make the $1 billion in interoperability grants available as soon as the bill is enacted.

Also, all money left over from the $3 billion budgeted for the converter subsidy program will be earmarked for emergency communications.