Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), angrily reacting to the failure of emergency communications in the Katrina disaster, charged last week that television broadcasters are “blocking access to spectrum for first (emergency) responders who serve over 50 percent of the country.”
The senator called on Congress to move up by two years the consensus date that broadcasters must give back the extra spectrum they were given for the transition to digital TV to the original date of Jan. 1, 2007.
“After spending millions of dollars in funding and additional spectrum for our nation’s first responders why aren’t we better off than we were on 9-11 when it comes to interoperable communications?,” McCain asked in a Senate floor speech. “Because the spectrum Congress provided to first responders in 1996 is being held hostage by television broadcasters even though broadcasters have been given new spectrum.”
Even after the Katrina communications failure, McCain said he would be “watching to see if the broadcasters find a way to once again delay the hand off of this spectrum to first responders.”
The senator noted that in 1997, NAB President Eddie Fritts stated on "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" that broadcasters’ use of spectrum allocated to first responders was merely a “loan to facilitate an orderly transition.”
McCain responded: “Mr. Fritts, this ‘loan’ has gone on long enough. Congress must now call in your ‘loan.’ You got your spectrum, now give the first responders their spectrum.”
Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, (R-AK) said last week that he is circulating draft legislation among colleagues that would expedite the DTV transition. Stevens told the National Journal that “a couple of items” in the draft still must be resolved. He said he plans to meet individually with some senators to try to settle those issues, and possibly discuss some broader telecommunications issues.
Stevens said he has not decided on a timeframe for introducing a DTV bill or moving it through his committee.
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