What happens to TV spectrum after the return?

Public safety officials will need at least three years after the spectrum is returned to use it effectively
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Former Commerce Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has few kind words for the nation’s television broadcasters. Last week at a DTV hearing, McCain said that one of the “most disgraceful chapters” in the committee’s history was the broadcasters’ “blocking” of the return of their analog spectrum for emergency public service use.

Broadcasters will bear a “heavy burden,” McCain said, if another terror attack hits the United States and emergency personnel can’t communicate.

Undermining McCain’s argument was Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Communications and Technology Committee of the Association of Chiefs of Police. McEwen told Congress that public safety officials would need at least three years after the spectrum is returned to utilize it in a system.

He said it takes about a year of planning, licensing and developing the plan; a second year of putting out a request for a proposal to purchase equipment; and a third year for that equipment to be purchased and put into service.

Even then, McEwen added, manufacturers of communications devices would have to cooperate in building the necessary emergency communications equipment.

McEwen said manufacturers aren’t even going to begin to produce the needed equipment until there is a ‘date certain. The reason, McEwen said, was that two or three years could be an entire generation in the electronics industry, and any equipment produced and sold today might become obsolete by the cutoff date.

It’s not certain yet which of the returned spectrum will be available for public safety use. Some or all of it still may be auctioned off by the federal government for other purposes.

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