McCain urges airwaves sale

WASHINGTON The new chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee made it clear Wednesday that he has not given up on his uphill battle to make broadcasters pay billions of dollars for the extra airwaves that they need to make the shift to digital television.

“Spectrum auctions keep popping up because it’s such a juicy source for $ 35 billion,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) Every broadcaster in the country is counting on free use of a second channel within the next three years to begin broadcasting a digital signal. The FCC has estimated that the extra airwaves would be worth between $ 20 billion and $ 70 billion on the open market.

But McCain has a tough battle ahead of him. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) opposes the spectrum auctions as does an overwhelming majority of the House, which voted last year against the proposal 408-16. “I’m not the Lone Ranger on this but it’s close,” said McCain.

He made the statements in comments to reporters after a speech on campaign finance reform.

In other bad news for broadcasters, McCain wants them to hand over free time to federal candidates during the election season. Like FCC chairman Reed Hundt, McCain insists that providing free time to political candidates is the price broadcasters should pay in return for free use of the nation’s airwaves.

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