Draft Senate bill calls for April 2009 release date for 700 MHz spectrum
Draft legislation out of the Senate Commerce Committee calls for television broadcasters to release their analog spectrum in the 700 MHz band in April 2009, with 24 MHz going to public safety and the rest being divided among commercial operators participating in a January 2008 auction.
Various analysts have predicted that a commercial auction of the 700 MHz spectrum would generate more than $10 billion of revenue, and the draft bill calls for $4.8 billion to be deposited in the U.S. Treasury to help offset budget deficits.
Beyond that, the draft legislation outlines five purposes for the auction money, including paying for a program to distribute low-cost converters that would let analog sets receive broadcasters’ digital TV signals and to help pay to make broadcasters’ translator and low-power stations digital. Other auction revenues would be earmarked to pay for upgrades to the 911 emergency-calling system and to public-safety communication networks. Money also could be appropriated for disaster-recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast.
None of these five purposes have been prioritized or designated with a specific dollar amount in the draft of the bill released late last week, a Senate Commerce Committee spokesperson said today. That could change as the legislation is considered during a markup hearing scheduled for Wednesday, the spokesperson said.
Previously, most proposals on Capitol Hill called for broadcasters to vacate the 700 MHz spectrum by January 2009. Harlin McEwen, chairman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police communications and technology committee, said he was “disappointed” with the April 2009 proposed deadline and expressed concern that the proposed three-month delay could yield further delays in the future.
In a speech earlier this month, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), an expected co-sponsor of the legislation, noted that he would like consumers to have three prime TV buying cycles—typically from the holiday season through the first part of the year—to purchase digital sets. As more consumers buy digital TV sets, the government would have to spend less money on a converter-box subsidy program.
McEwen said public safety would welcome funding for 911 upgrades and better communications systems, but he said he would reserve judgment on the proposed legislation until more funding details are clarified. “I’m not sure what to think about it … my understanding is that they’re changing it as we speak,” McEwen said this afternoon.