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B'casters blamed for spectrum crunch

During the same week broadcasters patted themselves on the back for news
reports during weather disasters and other emergencies, two lawmakers painted
them as spectrum hogs endangering public safety.

"I'm disgusted with broadcasters. They haven't considered safety ahead of
profits," Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Fla.) told the House Telecommunications Subcommittee

Weldon is the sponsor of legislation that would force broadcasters to relinquish
TV channels 63, 64, 68 and 69 by Dec. 31, 2006, regardless of whether viewers in
a market have bought digital-TV sets in sufficient numbers to trigger the give-back, as current law requires.

The subcommittee was conducting a hearing on spectrum needs for public-safety
officials, who have been unable to meet their communications needs due to a
spectrum shortage.

The four TV channels listed in Weldon's bill are slated to be turned over to
public-safety officials when broadcasters turn in their analog channels after
completing the digital transition.

"Is a TV show more important than a fire chief's life?" asked Weldon, a
former volunteer firefighter.

Although the government marked the end of 2006 as a target date, no station is
required to relinquish analog spectrum until 85% of households in its market can
receive a digital signal.

"Those broadcasters have kids in school that could be killed in an attack"
when poorly coordinated communications hamper police and rescue efforts, added
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the bill's co-sponsor.

The attacks on broadcasters' public-mindedness came two days after the
National Association of Broadcasters handed out annual "Service to America"
awards for stations' public-service programming and activities.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he would "carefully consider" the bill,
but he noted that earlier talk of a firm 2006 return date of broadcasters' analog
spectrum was extremely controversial because lawmakers don't want to cut off
analog signals before most viewers have gone digital.

Nevertheless, Upton acknowledged that the public-safety-spectrum shortage
must be solved quickly.

Earlier this week, Upton said he viewed new communications technologies being
tested by Chicago firefighters that can't be rolled out until more frequencies
are available.