Bush Budget: $500M Spectrum Fee

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Commercial TV stations that retain analog licenses after 2006 would be
required to pay $500 million in annual user fees, according to the Bush
administration's budget for the 2003 fiscal year.

The $2.13 trillion budget, released Monday, said the spectrum fee would
'facilitate the clearing of analog-television broadcast spectrum and provide
taxpayers some compensation for use of this scarce resource.'

Under current law, TV stations may retain their analog licenses until 85
percent of households in a market have the capability of receiving digital-TV
signals.

The Federal Communications Commission does not charge TV stations for using
analog spectrum.

A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, which has defeated
past efforts to impose spectrum fees, indicated that Congress would not adopt
the White House's latest proposal.

'This is not a new proposal. Congress has rejected spectrum taxes on other
occasions. What the administration failed to acknowledge is that broadcasters
are the only participants in the DTV transition making real progress,' NAB
spokesman Dennis Wharton said.

As of Jan. 28, 236 TV stations have commenced digital broadcasting. All
commercial TV stations -- about 1,300 in all -- are required by the FCC to be on
the air in digital by May 1. The NAB expects about two-thirds of the stations to
meet the deadline.

Last week, the FCC released a form for TV stations to file if they need
deadline extensions.

Wharton said the best way to expedite broadcasters' transition to digital was
for cable to 'carry the signals of broadcasters, and DTV sets must have access
to local broadcast signals.'

The cable industry opposes mandatory carriage of both analog- and digital-TV
signals during the transition.

The FCC tentatively endorsed that position in January 2001, saying that dual
carriage was likely a First Amendment violation based on the record at that
time.

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