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President’s budget proposes DTV spectrum fees after 2006

To add to a growing list of difficult policy issues facing terrestrial broadcasters, President Bush has asked Congress to revive a plan that would require station owners to pay a steep fee on any analog spectrum still being used after 2006.

Under the White House’s fiscal 2006 budget proposal sent to Congress last week, there’s a provision for a combined $500 million fee for use of the broadcaster’s current analog TV channels in 2007, and again in 2008. In 2009, the combined fees drop to $480 million; and, in 2010, to $450 million. The budget proposal uses round numbers and does not break down how much individual stations would be required to pay.

In previous congressional sessions, legislators friendly to broadcasters have defeated similar spectrum fee plans. This year, however, the winds are shifting as against station owners as new key committee chairmen and new budget realities converge to hike the pressure on broadcasters to complete the transition to DTV and return their analog spectrum.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the new chairman of the House Commerce Committee, has gotten tough with the broadcasters in recent days and demanded a hard date be set for the return of analog spectrum. He’s not expected to offer the level of broadcaster support that came from his predecessor, former Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.

From his budget request, it appears President Bush has joined members of Congress in wanting the broadcasters to return their analog spectrum sooner. Sale of that spectrum is seen as a way to help reduce a deficit projected to rise to $427 billion this year. Estimates for government revenue to be generated from the auctions for the analog spectrum run as high as $100 billion, Reuters reported.

Broadcast industry executives continue to lobby against a spectrum tax.

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