Sen. McCain Introduces DTV Transition Bill

June 14, 2005. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) introduced S 1237, the "Spectrum Availability for Emergency-Response and Law-Enforcement to Improve Vital Emergency Services Act". The bill would establish a hard date of December 31, 2008, for the transition in the U.S. from analog to digital television.

This awkward title produces the acronym of SAERLEIVES, which is close to SAVE LIVES. Sen. McCain and Sen. Lieberman also title this bill the "SAVE LIVES Act".

The title of "SAVE LIVES" is descriptive of the content to the extent that 24 MHz of the spectrum currently being used by broadcasters for over the air analog television would be made available for law enforcement purposes. Other uses of the spectrum would include cell phone service and broadband internet access.

The High Tech DTV Coalition, a coalition of interest groups and companies that want more spectrum for new wireless broadband services, praised the bill.

Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) P/CEO Gary Shapiro stated in a release that "Senators McCain and Lieberman have taken a critical and necessary step to expedite our nation's transition to digital television (DTV) in an effective and pro-consumer manner. A hard cut-off date for analog broadcasts, as proposed in the bill, will provide certainty for consumers, manufacturers, broadcasters and all others with a stake in the DTV transition. More, a hard cut-off date will foster innovation and strengthen America's security, while completing the DTV transition in a timely manner.

Similarly, Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn wrote a letter to Senators and Representatives in which she supported the concept of a hard deadline. She wrote that "reclaiming that spectrum has undeniable and very palpable public interest benefits". She also asserted that "the broadcast industry has done little, if anything, to promote the transition", and that if broadcasters do not commit to a consumer education program, "Congress should consider mandating that broadcasters provide it".

In contrast, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) P/CEO Eddie Fritz stated in a release that "local television stations provide a lifeline service during terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. We are committed to completing the digital transition in a timely fashion, including return of analog spectrum, and will work with Congress to ensure that millions of consumers are not left stranded by a premature end to analog broadcasting."

Section 4 of this bill would authorize the appropriation of $468 Million, "from the proceeds of the auction of licenses for recovered analog spectrum", to subsidize digital to analog converter devices for certain consumers owning analog TVs.

Sen. John McCainSen. McCain (at right) stated in the Senate that "The bill would ensure that no television viewer's set would go ``dark´´ by providing digital-to-analog converter boxes to over-the-air viewers that have a household income that does not exceed 200 percent of the poverty line and by allowing cable companies to down convert digital signal signals if necessary."

Section 5 of the bill would establish a program at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide grants to public safety organizations for the purchase of new communications equipment. The bill also authorizes unspecified appropriations, from the proceeds of auctions, to fund this grant program.

Section 6 of the bill would impose certain consumer education requirements upon equipment manufacturers and retailers of consumer equipment.

Sen. McCain stated that "The bill would mandate that warning labels be displayed on analog television sets sold prior to the transition, require warning language to be displayed at television retailers, command the distribution at retailers of brochures describing the television set options available, and call on broadcasters to air informational programs to better prepare consumers for the digital transition."

Sen. McCain concluded his floor statement with a comment about broadcasters. He said that "Several lawmakers attempted to act last year during the debate on the intelligence reform bill, but our efforts were thwarted by the powerful National Association of Broadcasters. This year, I hope we can all work together and to pass a bill that ensures the country is not only better prepared in case of another attack but also protects the vital communications outlet of broadcast television."

See also, McCain release and floor statement (also published in the Congressional Record, June 14, 2005, at Page S6486).