Congress: Broadcasters are spectrum hogs!

Some members of Congress are again on the warpath, reviving charges that television broadcasters are spectrum hogs and are endangering public safety.

“I’m disgusted with broadcasters. They haven’t considered safety ahead of profits,” said Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Fla.) during a session of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee last week. The Florida Republican has proposed a law that would force broadcasters to give up channels 63, 64, 68 and 69 by the Dec. 31, 2006 deadline. The law would eliminate a provision requiring that most viewers are able to receive a digital signal before mandating a spectrum give back.

Weldon is upset that a spectrum shortage he blames on broadcasters is preventing the use of much-needed emergency communications frequencies. “Is a TV show more important than a fire chief’s life?” asked Weldon.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), tried to shame broadcasters by reminding them they “have kids in school that could be killed in an attack” when communications services don’t work properly.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said the public safety spectrum problem must be solved quickly and offered to give the bill careful consideration. However, he said taking back the broadcast spectrum early would be “extremely controversial.”

Public television stations told members of the subcommittee that broadcasters could help solve the problem without giving up spectrum. Datacasting networks being tested in Kentucky, Dallas, Tex., Las Vegas, Nev., New Jersey, New York City and Nashville, Tenn., allow officials to install digital-TV tuner cards in personal computers to create private networks for transmitting emergency communications.

“Public television—using its existing digital spectrum—can play a unique role in meeting the needs of first responders,” said John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations.

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