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Senate committee OKs radio spectrum auction

The Senate Commerce Committee voted last week to raise $15 billion through the auction of part of the radio spectrum, but broadcasters appeared to emerge victorious in their bid to preserve airwaves reserved for their transition to digital TV.

Incomplete victory

Broadcasters could not declare complete victory after the 10-9 party line vote on Sept. 28, because lingo attached to the bill by Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) bars the Federal Communications Commission from allowing TV stations to begin transitioning to digital spectrum until completion of an FCC study. The study would explore the possibility of forcing broadcasters to bid for the advanced TV spectrum.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters said the Senate bill could result in further delay in the industry’s transition from analog to digital signal delivery.

Pressler bill dies

Pressler’s original plan – which would have forced TV station bidding for the right to carry HDTV and other digital transmissions – died for lack of support from both Republicans and Democrats. Pressler attributed his loss to the lobbying efforts of TV station owners. “Broadcasters out there shot us down, to put it mildly,” he said.

Pressler insisted he will continue to press for auctions of digital broadcast spectrum. “When it comes to spectrum, there are no free lunches,” he said.

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