As expected, President George W. Bush yesterday signed budget-reconciliation legislation that includes a firm date for TV broadcasters to clear 700 MHz spectrum and $1.2 billion in funding earmarked for public-safety communications.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216-214 to approve the budget package, which requires broadcasters to clear the 700 MHz airwaves on Feb. 17, 2009, after which 24 MHz of frequencies will be allocated nationwide to public safety. Other airwaves in the band will be auctioned to commercial operators in a bidding process expected to generate $10 billion in additional revenue for the government.

Under previous law, broadcasters tentatively were targeted to clear the 700 MHz band by the end of this year, but they were not required to do so until 85% of all U.S. television sets could receive digital signals—a threshold that could take decades to reach, according to many analysts.

Some public-safety officials previously had expressed hope that first responders might receive more than the 24 MHz of airwave earmarked, but enacting the budget measure effectively ends such discussion, said Harlin McEwen, chairman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police communications and technology committee.

“All the spectrum that is not going to public safety is ready to be auctioned, so it is highly unlikely [that more frequencies would be dedicated to public safety],” McEwen said.

In addition to allocating spectrum to public safety, the law creates a $1 billion grant program to pay for public-safety interoperable communications systems, $156 million for national alert and tsunami warning systems and $43.5 million to help fund E-911 upgrades as called for in the Enhance 911 Act passed in 2004.

Most of the $10 billion in expected auction proceeds will be used to reduce budget deficits and to fund a program designed to provide people with analog TV sets low-cost converters that will let them receive digital broadcasts.