McCain Pushes Earlier Analog Cutoff

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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to end the digital-TV transition no later than 2006 or early 2007, two years sooner than the cutoff endorsed last week by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and ranking member Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii).

McCain -- who plans to offer an amendment Thursday afternoon when the committee meets to debate the Stevens-Inouye bill -- said he was uncertain of the outcome.

“I don’t know where the votes are, to tell you the truth,” he said at a Capitol Hill forum on the wireless-communications needs of police, fire and rescue workers.

McCain’s chief concern is freeing up analog-TV spectrum quickly for use by first responders who require dependable crisis communications. Making that spectrum available was recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

But McCain said he expects the National Association of Broadcasters to fight his plan.

“I don’t blame them for attempting to keep this valuable spectrum for themselves,” he added. “I blame us for not acting -- incredibly in light of the 9/11 Commission.”

Stevens has argued that a 2009 deadline makes more sense than earlier dates because it would reduce the overall cost of the transition. The Congressional Budget Office has told Stevens’ aides that analog-TV-spectrum auctions would bring in more money the later they occur.

Stevens also believes the cost to subsidize digital-to-analog converter boxes would decrease if the analog cutoff happens in 2009 rather than in 2006 or 2007.

“[McCain’s] absolutely right, the first responders need new spectrum, but it’s going to take some time to get it to them,” Stevens told reporters Tuesday afternoon, according to a transcript released by his press office.

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