New Deadline for Clearing TV Channels 63, 64, 68 and 69?

Members of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet heard testimony last Wednesday asking for a definite date when broadcasters would have to cease use of TV channels 63, 64, 68 and 69. These channels were reallocated for public safety use under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Vincent Stile, President of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), Gregory Brown, President of Motorola's Commercial, Government and Industrial Solutions Sector, and Member of Congress Jane Harman all testified that a definite date should be set for broadcasters to vacate these channels, regardless of whether 85 percent of the households in the market were able to receive DTV signals.

In testimony, Vincent Stile from APCO said, "I want to emphasize that merely speeding up DTV deployment to meet the 85 percent benchmark is not enough. Public safety needs a firm date for the new spectrum to be available, so that state and local governments can proceed with the planning, design, funding, and construction of new radio systems." He continued, "Therefore, we urge Congress to establish December 31, 2006, as a firm and final date for television stations to vacate the specific channels that block public safety use of the 700 MHz band spectrum allocated as a result 1997 Balanced Budget Act. That will give state and local governments the ability to proceed with new interoperable, state-of-the-art public safety radio systems to provide new capabilities and/or allow for expansion of overburdened systems operating in the adjacent 800 MHz band."

Gregory Brown (Motorola) said in his testimony, "700 MHz is the only dedicated spectrum allocation where public safety can implement advanced mobile wide area systems that bring high-speed access to databases, the intranet, imaging and video to first responders in the field." He outlined the key benefits of these technologies:
1)"An officer or agent could transmit video of a potential bomb, or biological weapon and get real time counsel from an expert in another location."
2)"Local or state police could instantly send or receive a photograph of a missing or abducted child."
3)"Crime scene investigators can transmit live video of footprints, fingerprints and evidence to speed analysis and apprehension of perpetrators."
4)"Firefighters can access building blueprints, hydrant locations hazardous material data and other critical information."
5)"Paramedics can transmit live video of the patient to doctors at the hospital that would help save lives."

Brown testified that Motorola and Pinellas County, Fla., conducted a successful trial of technology that is able to provide all the capabilities listed above. Testing is continuing in Chicago under an FCC experimental license. He said, "Right now, actual product development could proceed as soon as we know with certainty that this spectrum will be available nationwide to the public safety community." He said that with the existing situation, " reality, there is no 'hard date' when the transition will end for public safety users, a situation which leaves the public safety community and those who support its efforts and needs in a terrible situation."

Gregory Brown's testimony stated that in addition to cessation of broadcasting on channels 63, 64, 68 and 69, "any TV stations in that market that are operating one TV channel up or down from the co-TV channel (referred to as the adjacent TV channels) also must have ceased operations. In effect, as many as seven TV channels (62-65 and 67-69) must be cleared before first responders in that market will be able to access the 24 MHz of new spectrum and deploy the equipment that uses this spectrum."
The problem is not limited to U.S. stations operating on these channels. Canadian TV stations near the U.S.-Canadian border operating on these channels will prevent them from being used for Public Safety.

Edmond Thomas, Chief Engineer for the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology, listed efforts the FCC is taking to make this spectrum available for Public Safety in his testimony. Requirements that all new television receivers include DTV reception capability were among the efforts listed.

In regards to the problem Gregory Brown described with Canadian border TV stations, Thomas said, "...the Commission has worked with Canadian authorities to clear public safety channels 63 and 68. We first addressed this problem in response to concerns raised by New York State's public safety community, but quickly expanded our efforts to address channel usage all along the U.S.-Canada border. In the period since September 11, 2001, the Canadians have re-evaluated their own public safety communications needs and decided to dedicate 24 MHz for public safety use and amend their DTV Table of Allocations to permit channels 63 and 68 to be used for public safety communications, instead of DTV, in Canada." He also stated the FCC was working with the Mexican government to make 700 MHz spectrum available along the Mexican border.

The Honorable Jane Harman, Member of Congress from the 36th District of California, was the lead Representative sponsoring the Homeland Emergency Response Operations Act, abbreviated "HERO". Her testimony urged support for the HERO act. The HERO act states "The Commission shall take all actions necessary to complete the assignment of the electromagnetic spectrum between 764 and 776 megahertz, inclusive, and between 794 and 806 megahertz, inclusive, for public safety services and to permit operations by public safety services on those frequencies commencing no later than January 1, 2007."

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's has a web page devoted to the June 11 hearing that has links to all submitted testimony.