D.C. analog ambush

McCain pumps digital bill with 9/11 tales

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) launched a broadside at broadcasters as he introduced his digital television transition bill, claiming their resistance to surrendering the analog spectrum contributed to some extent to deaths in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

While noting in his statement on the Senate floor that “broadcast television is a powerful communications tool and important information source for citizens,” McCain, who has frequently been at odds with broadcasters, later said, “The 9/11 Commission’s Final Report contained harrowing tales about police officers and firefighters who were inside the Twin Towers and unable to receive evacuation orders over their radios from commanders.”

At a press conference, McCain appeared with two mothers who lost children in the World Trade Center attack. One said that her son might not have died had there been clear communications — which more analog spectrum would have ensured — to alert people trapped inside about possible ways out.

In limbo

Several lawmakers attempted to expedite return of the spectrum last year, McCain said, “but our efforts were thwarted by the powerful National Assn. of Broadcasters.”

NAB topper Edward O. Fritts issued a response, saying, “As former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has noted, local television stations provide a lifeline service during terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. We are committed to completing the digital transition in a timely fashion, including return of analog spectrum, and will work with Congress to ensure that millions of consumers are not left stranded by a premature end to analog broadcasting.”

McCain’s DTV bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), is titled the Spectrum Availability for Emergency-response and Law-enforcement to Improve Vital Emergency Services Act, otherwise known as the SAVE LIVES Act. In addition to pushing for a quick reclaiming of the analog spectrum from broadcasters, it calls for a final cutoff date of Dec. 31, 2008, for all analog transmissions — the same date the House is considering.

Bill also would require the FCC to auction the recovered analog television spectrum no earlier than Dec. 17, 2006, but no later than April 1, 2008.

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