Spectrum Users Point to Safety Uses

Spectrum-hungry lawmakers called for a swift completion to the digital transition, discussing again the so-called "HERO Act," which would set aside some spectrum now used by television for public safety needs.

Sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and others, the act would effectively force broadcasters to move off Channels 62-69 at the end of 2006. The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet took up the issue of spectrum reform at a June 11 hearing.

The HERO Act is purported to help public safety personnel get the spectrum they need to protect the public. But broadcasters after the meeting were quick to note that their spectrum use can be part of the homeland security solution, not a problem.

The Association for Public Television Stations issued a lengthy statement after the hearing, announcing that it's ready to do its part.

"We offer our capabilities to the nation, and call on the Administration, Congress, state and local elected officials, and emergency and law enforcement officials at all level of government to partner with local public television stations to build a stronger, sustainable national security alert system," APTS said.

In particular, the group pointed to datacasting projects related to public safety at Kentucky Educational Television (KET), KERA (Dallas), KLVX (Las Vegas), the New New Jersey Network (NJN), Nashville Public Television (NPT) and WYNE (New York). The public broadcasters point to the relatively low cost of datacasting applications, using mostly existing infrastructure and potentially reaching a wide or carefully targeted audience.

At the House hearing though, some lawmakers seemed ready to put the broadcasters on probation.

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) noted that broadcasters have "ample new slices" of bandwidth to use. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) said he was "disgusted" with the broadcasters.

Harman had slightly kinder words. "Because of the uncertainly surrounding the DTV transition, the practical effect is to prevent state and local agencies from using those frequencies by a time certain or being able to plan for their availability.

Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) praised the bill's intentions, but warned that it would bump 75 channels away, including 11 DTV channels. "While it may sound, simple, in many cases there is no place to put those channels," he said.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) tied DTV and public safety issues together. "We can't turn off those channels without a comprehensive plan for the digital transition," he said, praising the past and upcoming industry roundtable discussions arranged by Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.). But, should industry negotiations fail, he said, the committee would have to legislate to ensure both a digital transition and an answer to the public safety needs.