Washington -- The Clinton administration proposed a $200
million tax on TV stations last week to help fund the purchase of wireless-communications
equipment for a broad range of public-safety purposes.
The tax -- officially described in President Clinton's
fiscal-year 2000 budget as an "analog-spectrum-lease fee" -- would be collected
annually until a TV station has surrendered its analog license to the Federal
The budget calls on the FCC to collect the first
installment no later than Sept. 30, 2000. While $100 million would be earmarked for
federal, state and local public-safety needs, another $80 million would go toward the
"narrowband-communications" needs of the Department of Justice. The remaining
$20 million would be divided among the Treasury Department and the Bureau of Indian
John Gurss, the lobbyist here for the 13,000-member
Association of Public Safety Communications Officers (APCO), said his members need the
money to buy equipment that can communicate on currently used frequencies and on new
frequencies that the FCC has allocated.
"There is a substantial need for new
public-communications systems for interoperability," Gurss said.
National Association of Broadcasters president Edward
Fritts, in a statement critical of the tax, said the proposal would "jeopardize a
public-private partnership between government and free, over-the-air local
broadcasters" that dates back to 1934.
He added that TV stations earn their free use of the
spectrum by contributing $6.8 billion annually in public-service programming and
fund-raising for local charities.
"To suggest that $6.8 billion in public service is
somehow inadequate for use of a sliver of the spectrum is nothing short of sheer
folly," Fritts said.
The tax would cost each commercial TV station about
$133,000 per year, assuming that the burden was spread equally among all 1,500 commercial
TV stations -- an unlikely event.
Ken Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.),
chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, said the proposal was a nonstarter
"It's not going to happen," Johnson said.
"The president's double-dealing broadcasters, and Congress is not going to sit
still for it."
Johnson said it was unfair to hit TV stations with a $200
million tax at a time when they are spending millions of dollars to build digital-TV
"Now, the president is hitting them with spectrum
fees," he said. "That's the greatest way to kill free, over-the-air
Tauzin's panel would be the starting point for any
legislation designed to authorize the FCC to collect the money.