House passes compromise 700 MHz plan
The U.S. House of Representatives today voted to approve legislation that would force television broadcasters to vacate their 700 MHz spectrum in February 2009 and would earmark $1.2 billion for items related to public-safety communications.
Part of the budget-reconciliation package, terms of the new digital-television legislation were the result of negotiations between House and Senate leaders in a conference committee that completed its work late last night. Passed by the House early this morning, the Senate is not expected to consider the legislation until Wednesday or Thursday, according to one Senate aide.
Included in the legislation is a stipulation that 700 MHz spectrum will be transitioned on Feb. 17, 2009, at which time public safety will be allowed to use its 24 MHz in the band and commercial operators will be able to use the frequencies they win in a 2008 FCC auction.
Proceeds from that auction are expected to generate $10 billion in new revenue, of which at least $7.3 billion would be allocated to reduce the budget deficit and as much as $1.5 billion would be earmarked for a program to provide low-cost converters so owners of analog TV sets can receive digital signals.
Most of the remaining funds from the auction would be focused on public safety–$1 billion for state and local interoperability grants, $156 million for national alert and tsunami warning systems and $43.5 million to help fund E-911 upgrades as called for in the Enhanced 911 Act passed last year.
Notable among those voting for the measure was House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas). Barton, who identified the digital television transition as a priority upon assuming leadership of the committee last year, was hospitalized Thursday night after suffering a heart attack, according to multiple news reports.