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Lawmakers tie toe tag to Bush spectrum fee

The president's proposed spectrum tax on TV stations is "dead on arrival," a
key lawmaker told broadcasters Monday morning.

"I don't see that happening," Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the
Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee, said at the National Association of
Broadcasters' annual state leadership conference.

Upton's comments were made during a question-and-answer session with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and
Tribune Co. lobbyist Shaun Sheehan.

As part of his fiscal-2004 budget submitted three weeks ago, President Bush
proposed that TV stations pay a tax totaling $500 million annually on their
analog spectrum beginning in 2007, one year after the government target date for
completing the switch to all-digital TV and reclaiming spectrum now used for

Although the need to reduce the budget deficit and reclaim spectrum quickly
won't be enough to preserve the fee proposal, other lawmakers said the twin
pressures will keep alive another idea broadcasters don't like: a "hard"
deadline for returning analog spectrum to the government.

House Commerce Committee leaders are currently drafting a new
digital-television bill and, despite strong opposition to a proposed 2006 take-back in a model digital-TV bill floated last year, a later date is still being

"There's growing impatience in Congress to take back that spectrum," said
Gregg Rothschild, telecommunications aide to Michigan's John Dingell, the House Commerce
Committee's ranking Democrat.

Rothschild's comments were made during a previous panel discussion among
Capitol Hill aides.

In a speech Monday afternoon, Dingell himself warned broadcasters that
failure to develop the digital-TV business as 2007 approaches will strengthen chances
of future attempts to impose spectrum fees.