Spectra fee proposed

Plan would have b'casters pay annually for airwaves

WASHINGTON — In lieu of buying their spectra at an auction, broadcasters would have to pay an annual fee for using the nation’s airwaves, according to a measure proposed by Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Industry sources said the spectrum fee is designed to raise $10 billion from all spectrum users, including the broadcasters, cellular telephone companies and satellite companies. It is not clear what percentage of the $10 billion broadcasters would have to shoulder, but they may be given a discount because they have public-interest obligations such as kids TV and the emergency broadcasting system, according to one network source.

The proposal is an alternative to spectrum auctions, which broadcasters recently escaped. Many in Congress had wanted to make broadcasters bid for the extra TV channels they need in order to make the transition to digital service.

The House Telecommunications Subcommittee will also take up consideration of a proposal today that would require all TV sets made after 2001 to have the ability to receive and display a digital TV signal. Another proposal would require set makers to affix a label to all TV sets warning buyers that the set does not receive a digital signal and that analog TV stations are slated to go dark in 2006.

Broadcasters are also pushing the subcommittee to adopt language that allows them to hold on to both their digital and analog TV channels until at least 95% of the country had made the switch to digital.

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