SAVE LIVES Act to bring down curtain on analog TV transmission

Legislation introduced this week in the U.S. Senate would require broadcasters to begin using DTV spectrum and return spectrum used for analog NTSC transmissions to the government in time to allow public safety agencies to begin using a portion of surrendered broadcast bandwidth by Jan. 1, 2009.

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced the Spectrum Availability for Emergency-Response and Law-Enforcement to Improve Vital Emergency Services Act,” known as The SAVE LIVES Act of 2005.

The bill’s intent is to provide a date certain for allocation of 24MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band for emergency responders. Congress promised that allocation in 1997, but as of yet has failed to deliver.

As a means of fulfilling Congress’ promise, the bill would bring the analog-to-digital transition to an end, requiring relinquishment of analog TV spectrum that is particularly attractive for emergency communications because of range and its ability to penetrate buildings.

Recounting some of the 9-11 Commission’s conclusions regarding inadequate emergency communications, McCain referenced the “harrowing tales about police officers and fire fighters who were inside the Twin Towers and unable to receive evacuation orders over their radios from commanders.” The SAVE LIVES Act is intended to remedy that situation, he said.

To bring about cessation of NTSC transmission with the least amount of negative consequences, the bill calls for labels warning consumers of the imminent termination of analog transmission to be attached to new NTSC TV sets, government-subsidized digital-to-analog converter boxes for the poor and allowing cable companies to downconvert digital signals if necessary.

The bill also would establish a tax credit for recycling TVs and require the Environmental Protection Agency to report to Congress on the need for a national electronic waste-recycling program.

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