First Responder Bill Also Seeks Transition Delay

Judging from the political rhetoric in Washington these days, you would think radio spectrum is a matter of life and death. In some ways it is, and the name-calling over its usage is reaching all the way back to 9/11. The upshot of it all likely will mean the final transition will be delayed a couple of years, as expected, and probably delay the rollout of HD and other DTV services, in the short run. In the long run, if salespeople and consumers are bettered educated on HD and DTV, it might just help when the full-blown transition takes hold.

A revised SAVE LIVES Act, which sets a hard date to end analog TV transmissions and to free up part of the 700 MHz band for emergencies, returned to Capitol Hill this month. But this time one of its co-sponsors, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), came loaded for bear, at one point inferring that the NAB is moving so slowly on getting its local member stations to turn over spectrum earmarked for first responders that it may have cost more lives to be lost almost four years ago on Sept. 11, 2001. NAB, on the other hand, found the senator's implication "quite a stretch" and pointed out that broadcast engineers' lives were lost on 9/11.

The SAVES LIVES (Spectrum Availability for Emergency-Response and Law-Enforcement To Improve Vital Emergency Services) Act was originally introduced last fall, but died painfully after most of its key provisions were gutted by a barrage of heavy-handed amendments.

Similar to pending House legislation, the revised Senate bill (S. 1237), co-sponsored by McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), again seeks to expedite the DTV transition. The analog cut-off date would be Jan. 1, 2009. The Senate measure still includes analog-to-digital converter box subsidies, public awareness funding, warning labels for analog TV sets, and interoperable radios for first responders.

Unlike its earlier version, however, the revised McCain-Lieberman bill does not mandate an earlier deadline for stations currently in the 700 MHz band. And the total for converter box subsidies has been reduced by more than half its original $1 billion; it would be earmarked for only the estimated 9.5 households that do not exceed twice the poverty level--about 8.6 percent of all TV homes. Total U.S. TV households will reach 110 million later this summer or early fall, according to Nielsen.