Spectrum Use and the Transition to Digital TV

Publication Date: August 2007

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Media, telecommunications, and information



The United States, like most of the world, is moving to replace current television technology with a new, technically superior format generally referred to as digital television (DTV). As part of this transition, Congress is seeking to provide the impetus that would move television broadcasters out of 700 MHz spectrum currently in use for the old, analog technology -- thereby ending these broadcasts. Channels at 700 MHz would subsequently be available for other uses. Both public safety communications networks and commercial advanced wireless service companies are eager to have access to frequencies already designated for their use but not released. In addition, budget reconciliation (S. 1932) requires that some of the cleared spectrum be auctioned to contribute at least $7.363 billion toward closing the budget gap. The Conference Report (H.Rept. 109-362) of the bill also sets a date of February 17, 2009 for the release of the spectrum, with auctions scheduled for 2008. Among specified uses of the auction proceeds are funds to facilitate the transition to digital TV. The Digital Television Transition Act of 2005, included in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (H.R. 4241), contained some sections that were omitted in the Conference Report; these included provisions for must carry of digital broadcasts, cable and satellite transmissions, and spectrum allocation requirements. Some of these issues are addressed in other bills or could be reintroduced in new legislation during the 2nd Session. Other bills in the 109th Congress dealing with the transition to digital television and spectrum use include H.R. 1646 (Representative Harman), S. 1268 (Senator McCain), and S. 1600 and S. 1767 (Senator Snowe). This report will be updated.