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The Digital TV Transition: A Brief Overview

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Publication Date: August 2005

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RS22217

Topic: Media, telecommunications, and information (Television)

Abstract:

Congressional policymakers are seeking a way to accelerate the nation's transition to digital television and to expedite the transfer of radio frequency channels from the broadcast industry to public safety and commercial users no later than 2009. Broadcasters are holding spectrum in the 700MHz band (channels 52-69) that they would be required to relinquish after the transition to digital television (DTV) is achieved. Without a hard deadline, the transition to digital television has been postponed. Meanwhile, public safety officials want 700 MHz spectrum that has been assigned to them, but not delivered, in order to build new interoperable networks, while the commercial wireless industry would like access to the spectrum for new services.

The scope of a bill to clear spectrum and facilitate the transition to digital televison is under discussion in the House and Senate. Although policymakers continue to discuss different proposals for legislation, it appears that consensus has been reached on several points. For example, there is general agreement to set a firm date for the clearing of 700 MHz spectrum; to use $4.8 billion of auction proceeds toward Congressional commitments to reduce the budget deficit by 2010; and to take measures so that TV viewers will not lose access to television programming. The steps needed to achieve the latter remain a major point of disagreement, within and outside Congress. Because of the intention to use spectrum funds to meet the Budget Resolution (H.Con.Res. 95), many believe that the major points of a DTV transition act could be included as part of the reconciliation process. Bills introduced that deal with the transition to digital television and spectrum use include H.R. 1646 (Representative Harman), S. 1268 (Senator McCain), and S. 1600 (Senator Snowe). This report will be updated.