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Sen. McCain’s Spectrum Act Rejected

Washington — The Senate Commerce Committee voted down a plan proposed by Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, (R-Ariz.) that would have halted analog TV broadcasting by 2009 in order to free up spectrum for public safety and emergency communications uses.

Instead, the committee voted 13-9 for an amendment proposed by Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) — and urged by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) — to require TV stations to give back only 24MHz of spectrum covering channels 63, 64, 68 and 69 by Dec. 31, 2007. That spectrum would then be allocated for public safety communications.

The measure would also allow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to waive the spectrum return if necessary to avoid disruption to consumers. Meanwhile, the FCC is scheduled to vote Nov. 9 on a proposal to require the end of analog broadcasting by Dec. 31, 2008.

McCain’s original proposal called for the government spending up to $1 billion to subsidize the cost of digital-to-analog receiver/converters for low-income families that were threatened with losing television reception after analog broadcasts go dark.

Broadcasters, under the McCain plan, would have been required to surrender their analog channels by Dec. 31, 2008. Of that, 24MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band was to have been allocated for public safety agencies. The remainder was to have been auctioned off.

Commenting on the turn of events, the NAB said: “Today’s vote balances the legitimate needs of public safety providers while limiting the disruption of local television service to millions of consumers. NAB thanks Senators Stevens, Burns, Hollings and Inouye — along with other Senators who supported the Burns amendment — for recognizing the importance of a vibrant, universal and free system of local broadcasting.”

“Irrespective of the Commerce Committee’s actions, there is a growing recognition on both sides of the hill that at some point the spectrum needs to come back both for public safety use and for other uses like advanced wireless broadband,” said Michael Petricone, CEA technology policy VP. “Obviously they opted to go in a different direction than Senator McCain, but a couple of months ago there wouldn’t even have been a debate, and the fear was the digital TV transition would go on indefinitely.”