Senate Approves Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act Title in Budget Reconciliation Conference Report

December 21, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC – Today the United States Senate voted 51-50 to approve the Budget Reconciliation conference report which includes the Digital Transition title. The conference report will now be returned to the House of Representatives for its consideration, as the Senate made technical changes unrelated to the Digital Television title.

This title was negotiated by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Senate version of the bill, the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005, was sponsored by Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

“My good friend Joe Barton and I worked very closely on the DTV title of the bill,” said Chairman Stevens. “I found the Chairman to be easy to work with, especially because we agreed on the way to approach both deficit reduction and ensuring that public safety and consumers benefit from the digital transition in 2009. I’m glad he is on his way to a full recovery and I look forward to working with him on other DTV-related issues early next year, in addition to telecom re-write issues.”

Under its revised budget reconciliation instruction, the Senate Commerce Committee saves $7.363 billion for deficit reduction in the next five years, and 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, though several independent reports estimate that the auction would raise more than $20 billion. The title also extends auction authority to September 30, 2011.

The legislation 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 February 17, 2009. From that date forward, public safety personnel will have access to the 24 MHz of spectrum recovered in the transition. Second, the legislation requires the auction of recovered spectrum by January 28, 2008.

The Commerce Committee, which authored the DTV section, originally approved the bill by a vote of 19-3 on October 20, 2005. The United States Senate approved the Act as part of the Budget Reconciliation Bill by a vote of 52-47 on November 3, 2005.