While recognizing that there is a push to move up the date for return of broadcasters' analog spectrum, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) reiterated in a hearing Thursday that the 2009 date was important because it was tied to the budget process.
Stevens has said he would move up the date, too, if it were practicable.
During a hearing on emergency communications, he said that the date was necessary to get sufficient money to cover the transition, which will almost surely include subsidizing digital-to-analog converters as well as paying for an interoperable emergency communications system.
That is a frequency-independent system that can share voice and data in real time. The price tag on that was estimated at $15 billion (modifications to existing radios could cost $800 per receiver, said one witness), and even that figure is said to be low, covering only mobile devices.
Stevens has been under pressure to move the hard date up because some of broadcasters' analog spectrum will be given to police and firemen. The balance will be auctioned for billions of dollars by the government. A highly placed source says the senator continues to hold to the 2009 date, which he appeared to confirm at the hearing Thursday.
Stevens and his counterpart atop the House Commerce Committee, Joe Barton (R-Tex.), have an Oct. 19 deadline to get TV transition bills to their respective budget committees as part of a process in which committees have to identify the money their bills will add to federal coffers over the next five years.
If the TV transition bill doesn't make it into that process, "there will be no funds," he pointed out.
According to a Hill source, the Congressional Budget Office has advised that the 2009 date will bring in more money than the 2007 hard date that Senator John McCain has begun pushing for post-Katrina/Rita.
Even after the return of spectrum, it will likely be years before a fully interoperable system is complete.