S.__ Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005
Sets April 7, 2009 as the end of current, analog television broadcasting in the US.
Sets January 28, 2008 as date to auction off recovered spectrum for new usues.
Establishes Digital Transition and Public Safety Fund with revenues from "analog" spectrum auction. The Department of Commerce is to use the fund to:
1) assist consumers in the purchase of digital TV converter boxes,
2) help low-power television stations and television translator stations convert to digital technology,
3) facilitate emergency communications,
4) implement ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004 and
5) provide assistance to coastal states affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters.
(See full text of bill as reported 10/20/05)
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the spectrum auction could fetch ten billion dollars, but technology companies estimate the take at up to twenty-eight billion dollars.
The Government Accountability Office estimates approximately 21 million households rely solely on broadcast television.
* On November 3, 2005, the Senate approved budget legislation that includes these provisions on the digital television. Broadcasting&Cable reports that the bill was amended to earmark additional revenues from spectrum auctions. From the projected $10 billion in auction revenues, the bill sets aside $5 billion for the treasury, $3 billion for digital-to-analog converter box subsidies; $200 million low power TV stations and translators; $1 billion for state and local interoperability; $250 for a national alert and tsunami warning system; $250 million for E-911 communications; $200 million for coastal States affected by hurricanes and other disasters; $75 million available for the Essential Air Service program. In addition, the bill earmarks the first $1 billion over the Congressional Budget Office's $10 billion estimate for deficit reduction, the next $500 million for interoperability for first responders, the next $1.2 billion for coastal restoration for hurricane-affected states, and the rest to deficit reduction again.
* On October 31, 2005, the full Senate began debate on budget legislation that includes these provisions on the digital television.
* On October 31, 2005, twenty-five public interest organizations have signed a letter sent to the US Senate urging Congress to set aside portions of the digital broadcast band for unlicensed use and direct the FCC to complete its stalled rulemaking to open unassigned TV channels in each market (TV band â€œwhite spaceâ€) for unlicensed wireless broadband services. "Use of these airwaves via an unlicensed wireless broadband platform," the groups write, "would be of enormous benefit to consumers, public safety agencies, and small businesses that seek low-cost communications to promote job growth." The groups conclude: "Any legislation that fails to address the spectrum needs of Americans in the 21st century fails to serve the public interest. The DTV transition represents an historic opportunity to maximize efficient use of public resources to meet public needs."
On Ocober 27, the Senate Budget Committee approved the budget reconcitiation bill that contains the digital television transition legislation. That bill moves to the Senate floor -- perhaps as early as Monday.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 by a vote 19-3 on October 20, 2005. Adopted by unanimous consent with the bill was a Managerâ€™s Amendment offered by Senators Stevens and Inouye. The Amendment: 1) provided that any auction proceeds in excess of $10 billion be deposited in the Treasury to reduce the deficit. This could be a significant sum if the auction brings in over $20 billion as some industry groups have suggested; 2) set specific amounts for the program payments; 3) increased the amount to go to the Treasury from $4.8 billion to $5 billion to help reduce the deficit; 4) designated $50 million of $250 million for the national alert system to fund tsunami warning and coastal vulnerability programs; and 5) allocated any remaining funds from the converter box program and translator conversion be transferred to the emergency communications program. Senator Burns also offered an amendment that was accepted by unanimous consent. The Burns amendment made $75 million from the spectrum auction available over a five-year period for the Essential Air Service program. Text of bill. The bill will now be considered by the Senate Budget Committee.
Sen Stevens and Senate Commerce ranking member Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) will meet Monday to discuss the other DTV issues to be included in companion legislation -- including details on the converter box subsidy and cable "downconversion" of high-definition programming. Sen Stevens and aides last week indicated that an effort to put a multicasting requirement into the budget reconciliation package could run afoul of the so-called Byrd rule, which bars attaching provisions without a budgetary or revenue impact to the reconciliation measure. Sen Stevens also said that he personally favors a multicasting provision.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)
The release of the Senate committee draft bill came as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and other leaders of the high tech sector urged lawmakers to speed the DTV transition in order to free up the analog spectrum for wireless broadband services. In a letter, members of the High Tech DTV Coalition -- which includes companies such as Intel, Dell and Cisco Systems as well as Microsoft -- urged Congress to set the earliest possible transition deadline. The coalition said it should be no later than Jan. 1, 2009, but coalition officials later said that the April 7, 2009 date in the Senate bill was acceptable.
The National Cable Television Association responded to the bill in a statement: "We support the priority placed on achieving a hard date by which to complete the transition to digital TV. We're also pleased that the staff has chosen to refrain from including mandatory multicasting which would injure consumers and threaten diversity in programming choices. We're looking forward to working further with Congress as these issues unfold."
Congressional Budget Office supports â€˜09
and warns that an earlier date would depress auction revenues.
* In a statement after the 10/20/05 vote, Sen John Kerry (D-MA) charged: â€œWe've talked for years about the importance of getting new spectrum in the hands of our first responders. But today that priority was a casualty of the clout that powerful interests wield in Congress and a process driven by gimmicks aimed at making a fiscally irresponsible budget more palatable."