Bill would close spectrum loophole

National Task Force on Interoperability

Two congressional lawmakers have reintroduced a bill to ensure that TV broadcasters transfer a 24 MHz piece of spectrum to public safety officials by 2006, a move supported by first responders.

The Homeland Emergency Response Operations (HERO) Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), was introduced March 25 and referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

H.R. 1425 firmly sets a Dec. 31, 2006, deadline for the transition, closing what some say is a loophole that would allow broadcasters to continue to use the channels if digital TV wasn't received by a certain percentage of American households.

"It is disgraceful that emergency responders in the 21st century are forced to use archaic and out-of-date communication tools," Weldon said in a prepared statement. "The increasing demands on our radio frequencies over the last 15 years have put the public and our emergency response personnel in great danger."

In 1997, Congress passed a law authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to re-allocate radio spectrum from 764 MHz to 776 MHz and from 794 MHz to 806 MHz. TV broadcasters currently use that spectrum (channels 63, 64, 68 and 69), and the law called for it to be re-allocated for public safety uses.

The requirement was based on the previous year's Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee report that public safety agencies lacked adequate radio spectrum and that would hamper emergency responses. The committee actually recommended that public safety receive an additional 97.5 MHz of radio spectrum by 2010.

Under the current legislation, TV broadcasters have until Dec. 31, 2006, to move or until 85 percent of the households in a market have access to digital TV signals, whichever is later. According to lawmakers and public safety officials, only 1 percent of households have digital TV.

But even if the spectrum was transferred immediately, law enforcement officials have said, manufacturers have not developed mobile, portable or base station radio equipment that can operate in the 700 MHz band

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