Washington— The Bush Administration is pressing ahead with plans to tax commercial TV stations $500 million per year for failing to complete the digital TV transition by Dec. 31, 2006.
The White House last week unveiled a $2.24 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2004, under which the Federal Communications Commission would be authorized to collect the $500 million from TV stations that continue to broadcast on the analog channel in 2007.
The budget document, which describes the proposal as an "analog-spectrum lease fee," said collecting the funds was necessary to clear the analog channels and compensate taxpayers for the use of a scarce resource.
Under the White House plan, TV stations could avoid the spectrum fee by returning their analog licenses on Dec. 31, 2006. However, stations are unlikely to surrender their analog licenses until the vast majority of homes have purchased DTV sets or digital-to-analog converter boxes.
Administration officials advanced a similar plan last year, but Congress refused to embrace it in the face of strong opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters and the major TV networks. The Clinton White House also failed to obtain spectrum-fee authority.
"Congress has wisely rejected spectrum taxes on broadcasters for the past several years, because lawmakers recognize the timetable for the transition to digital television will be determined by consumer acceptance and not by arbitrary government dictates," said NAB president Edward Fritts in a statement.
Last week, Fritts told a Precursor Group conference that the keys to the transitions were the sale of DTV sets with off-air tuners and cable systems carriage of DTV signals "in their entirety."