Senate Approves Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005

November 3, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Senate today passed the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 as part of the Budget Reconciliation Bill by a vote of 52-47.

The legislation, offered by U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), establishes two specific dates that will advance the transition to a digital television (DTV) broadcast signal and improve public safety communications.

First, the Act requires broadcasters to vacate the analog portion of the public spectrum by April 7, 2009. From that date forward, public safety personnel will have access to the 24 MHz of spectrum recovered in the transition.

Second, the legislation begins the auction of recovered spectrum on January 28, 2008. Under its budget reconciliation instruction, the Commerce Committee is required to raise $4.8 billion in revenue in the next five years, and the spectrum auctions are considered to be the most viable method within the Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction to recover this revenue. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that auctions will raise a total of $10 billion.

After $5 billion of revenue is transferred to the U.S. Treasury, the remaining funds raised from spectrum auctions will be allocated as follows:

1) $3 billion for a converter box subsidy program

2) $200 million for a program to transition Low Power TV stations and TV translators to digital

3) $1 billion for state and local interoperability grants

4) $250 million to fund programs in the WARN Act, which establishes national alert and tsunami warning systems

5) $250 million in funding to improve E-911 communications under the Enhance 911 legislation sponsored by Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) passed last year

6) $200 million for assistance to coastal States affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters

7) $75 million available over a five-year period for the Essential Air Service program

An amendment to the reconciliation bill offered by Senators David Vitter (R-La.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and co-sponsored by Chairman Stevens, Co-Chairman Inouye, and Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), would earmark spectrum auction revenues that exceed the CBO’s $10 billion projection. In the event that the revenue surpasses $10 billion, the first $1 billion would go toward deficit reduction, the next $500 million would go to the interoperability funding for first responders, and the next $1.2 billion would go to coastal restoration for states affected by hurricanes. Finally, any additional revenue beyond that would also be targeted to deficit reduction. The amendment passed the Senate by voice vote.

The Commerce Committee, which authored the DTV section, originally approved the bill by a vote of 19-3 on October 20, 2005.