Public safety adds pressure to broadcasters

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International wants Congress to mandate the return of analog television spectrum by the end of 2006. The group said the spectrum now being tied up by broadcasters is urgently needed for public safety radio communications.

In a letter to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the group said, “these systems are needed today, not at some distant undefined date.”

Upton has scheduled a hearing this Wednesday on an FCC proposal to speed up the DTV transition and explore whether to force stations to adhere to a firm date for the return of their analog spectrum.

As required by Congress in 1997, the FCC has reallocated 24MHz of spectrum for public safety radio services at 764-776/794-806MHz, which is now used for TV stations 63, 64, 68 and 69.

Ongoing television operations on those and adjacent channels block use of the new public safety spectrum in much of the nation, and current law allows those stations to remain on the air until December 31, 2006, or when 85 percent of households have access to DTV signals.

“Public safety agencies need access to the reallocated spectrum to provide critical capacity for new and expanded wide-area, multi-agency radio systems,” APCO said. "The uncertainty as to when TV stations will give back their analog channels makes it difficult for state and local governments to plan or fund new radio systems on the reallocated public safety spectrum.”

APCO asked that Congress require TV stations that block public safety allocations to relinquish their channels no later than December 31, 2006. “We also support the FCC Media Bureau recommendation that the commission change its must-carry rules to ensure that the 85 percent threshold is met as of January 1, 2009 , though we suggest an earlier date for channels 60-69. The Media Bureau’s proposal would be a major step forward, assuming that it provides state and local governments with sufficient certainty to begin the planning, funding and construction process upon adoption of the rule change.”

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