Commercial television stations
would have to pay a total of $200 million a year for use of the
public airwaves under a proposal buried in the Clinton
administration's fiscal 2000 spending plan.
The provision, sure to draw strong opposition from
broadcasters, directs the Federal Communications Commission to
start collecting the fees by Sept. 30, 2000, ending decades of
free use of the airwaves for television.
The money raised would be used to fund a series of unrelated
Clinton initiatives, including putting more police on the
streets and funding programs in the Justice Department and
Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The airwave fee would only apply to current analog use of
the airwaves. Broadcasters that switched over to new digital
technology and returned the airwaves they had been using for
analog shows would be exempted.
The transition to digital television is expected to take
many years, however, as few TV sets capable of receiving digital
transmissions are on the market and most cost $7,000 or more.
Broadcasters had no immediate reaction. "We haven't had
time to digest what it means yet," said National Association of
Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.
President Clinton sent his fiscal 2000 budget proposals to
Congress Monday morning.