President George Bush on Wednesday signed a bill that will open up a chunk of highly coveted radio spectrum to new mobile broadband applications and to public safety agencies.
Bush signed into law legislation setting Feb. 17, 2009, as the date U.S. broadcasters must end transmitting analog television signals and move to all-digital broadcasts. The move from the upper 700 MHz spectrum band will free up 60 MHz for auction to mobile wireless carriers and 24 MHz for emergency response agencies.
TV viewers who receive over-the-air signals on analog TV sets will need to buy converters to get any TV signals after the transition. The bill Bush signed includes up to $1.5 billion in funding to provide two $40 vouchers per household to use toward the purchase of digital-to-analog set-top converter boxes.
The upper 700 MHz band would allow wireless signals to travel four to five times as far as existing mobile phone signals, advocates of the digital television (DTV) deadline said. That makes the spectrum valuable for mobile broadband providers and for police and fire departments that want to communicate better with regional counterparts.
Tech trade groups praised Bush for approving the DTV deadline, part of a huge budget bill. "Today’s victory has been a long time coming, and is a critical win for innovation and public safety," said Rhett Dawson, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, in a statement. "Because the DTV transition will lead to more products, improved public safety and economic gains, the American public will see direct benefits."
Under current law, broadcasters are required to give up their analog spectrum by the end of 2006, but only in television markets where 85% of homes can receive digital signals. Critics said most markets wouldn't move to DTV for many years without a hard deadline.
The Consumer Electronics Association praised Bush's action, but called on the television and electronics industries to begin a consumer education campaign.