Senate Commerce Committee Approves DTV Bill

October 20, 2005. The Senate Commerce Committee (SCC) amended and approved the "Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005". The final vote was 19-3. See, SCC release. Also, the House Commerce Committee announced that it will mark up its version of a DTV transition bill during the week of October 24. See, HCC notice.

The SCC's bill language [PDF] sets a date of April 7, 2009 for the return of television broadcasters' spectrum in 700 MHz band now being used for analog broadcasting. 24 MHz of spectrum would be made available for public safety uses. 60 MHz would be for advanced wireless services.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment that would have moved up this deadline to April 7, 2007. He said that this issue pits the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) against the first responders, and that first responders need an earlier deadline. He amendment failed on a roll call vote of 5-17.

This bill language also requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to "auction of the licenses for recovered analog spectrum commencing January 28, 2008".

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the Chairman of the SCC, stated at the hearing that the SCC, under its budget reconciliation instruction, is required to raise $4.8 Billion in revenue in the next five years, including from this spectrum auction. He added that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that these auctions will raise $10 Billion.

The bill language establishes a fund, titled the "Digital Transition and Public Safety Fund", into which auction proceeds shall be deposited. It then provides that the Secretary of Commerce "shall make payments from the Fund in the following amounts, for the following programs, and in the following order:
  (1) $3,000,000,000 for a program to assist consumers in the purchase of converter boxes that convert a digital television signal to an analog television signal, ...
  (2) $200,000,000 for a program to convert low-power television stations and television translator stations from analog to digital, ...
  (3) $1,250,000,000 for a program to facilitate emergency communications, of which $1,000,000,000 shall be used for an interoperability fund and $250,000,000 shall be used to implement a national alert system, of which $50,000,000 shall be used for tsunami warning and coastal vulnerability programs."

The SCC also approved at this meeting S 1753, the "Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act", a bill to create the national alert system. See, story in this issue titled "Senate Commerce Committee Approves WARN Act".

The bill language then goes on to provide for payments for a program to implement the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004, and to "provide assistance to coastal States and Indian tribes affected by hurricanes and other coastal disasters".

The SCC also approved an amendment offered by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) to provide funding for the essential air service. This has nothing to do with spectrum and digital transitions.

The High Tech DTV Coalition seeks a hard date. Janice Obuchowski, the group's Executive Director, stated in a release that "Our members stand ready to deploy advanced wireless technology using the radiowaves that will be freed up as a result of this landmark vote."

This group that includes Alcatel, Aloha Partners, AT&T, Dell, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, T-Mobile, National Association of Manufacturers, Business Software Alliance, Semiconductor Industry Association, and other groups.