The Bush Administration opposes the inclusion of a $1 billion fund to subsidize the transition to digital television that many believe is necessary to clear broadcasters from 700 MHz spectrum earmarked for public-safety communications, according to a letter delivered this week to Capitol Hill.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) included the $1 billion subsidy fund in his amendment to legislation drafted to achieve recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which identified the need for more spectrum for wireless public-safety communications. Although the language of McCain’s proposal was changed to effectively remove the expected funding source for the subsidy--an auction of 700 MHz airwaves to private wireless operators--the subsidy remained in the Senate proposal.

Many observers believe subsidizing consumers who have not made the transition to digital television is the only way to clear broadcasters from the desirable 700 MHz spectrum in the near term. Current law requires that at least 85% of all U.S. television must be capable of receiving digital-television signals before broadcasters have to relinquish their analog spectrum.

But the Bush Administration disagrees with this approach, according to an Oct. 18 letter to conference committee members attempting to craft a final bill.

"Creating a billion-dollar fund to subsidize consumer electronics such as digital converter boxes, high-definition televisions and the installation of cable and satellite services is not necessary to achieve the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations," said the letter, signed by Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Condoleeza Rice, assistant to the president for national security affairs. Instead of establishing a subsidy fund for consumers, the Bush administration has proposed assessing an analog spectrum fee on broadcasters to encourage them to clear the airwaves.

"This proposal would facilitate public-safety access to spectrum in a timely fashion without generating budgetary costs," the letter stated.

Although some observers expressed hope that the conference committee would finalize legislation to meet the 9/11 Commission’s objectives this week, sources said Thursday afternoon that it was difficult to tell whether the goal could be accomplished in that timeframe.