CBO Frets 2006 Cutoff


Washington— The effort to end analog TV service by 2007 is encountering negative feedback from the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is concerned the deadline might shortchange the federal government when it auctions the analog TV spectrum to new users, especially bandwidth hungry broadband wireless companies.

The staff of Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has held preliminary talks with the CBO regarding the anticipated revenue from the auction should Dec. 31, 2006 become the deadline for TV stations to switch to digital-only transmission and surrender their analog licenses worth billions of dollars on the market.

“Just from purely a budget perspective, [the CBO says] the later that the digital transition occurs, the more funding that would be made available to the federal government through the auction process,” House Energy and Commerce Committee majority staff director Lisa Sutherland said last Tuesday at the Cable Television Public Affairs Association conference here.

At a time of huge budget deficits, the CBO’s analysis might prompt Congressional budget hawks to press for a later DTV deadline. A CBO spokesman would not comment on Sutherland’s remarks or confirm that CBO staff had held talks with Commerce Committee aides. The CBO reviews legislation for Congress to determine budgetary impact.

Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) favors Dec. 31, 2006, and hopes to use some spectrum auction proceeds to fund converter boxes to keep TV sets working for millions of low-income households that rely exclusively on free, over-the-air broadcasting.

High tech companies — including Intel Corp., Qualcomm Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. — have formed a coalition to pressure Congress to enact Barton’s plan and provide them certain access to airwaves they want to use to bombard mobile devices with high-speed data and video services.

The CBO is evidently concerned that a pre-2007 auction would produce a glut, depressing the value of the analog TV spectrum because of FCC auctions in the pipeline that might attract the same bidders interested in the analog TV spectrum.