B’cast budget fudge

TV lobby calls spectrum estimates inflated

WASHINGTON — Once again, Congress is using prospective revenue from spectrum auctions to fill billion-dollar holes in the budget deficit.

The latest version of the balanced budget, agreed upon late last week, counts on the sale of broadcast airwaves in 2002 to raise at least $5.4 billion. Broadcasters and even government economists say the revenue figure is unrealistic.

In addition, the budget expects to raise $2 billion by penalizing broadcasters who receive “free spectrum for advanced, advertiser-based television services, but fail to utilize it fully.”

Surprised and confused

Several broadcast lobbyists said Friday that they were surprised and confused by the penalty, which seems to be targeted at TV stations who fail to make the jump from the current analog transmission standard to the coming digital technology.

One lobbyist said the prospective penalty appeared to be little more than an effort to find another $2 billion to plug into the budget gap. National Assn. of Broadcasters president Eddie Fritts said Friday that he would vigorously attack the imposition of the penalties, which he called “outrageous.”

Fritts also called the auction revenue estimates “highly inflated and inconsistent with marketplace realities.”

Even House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has grown cynical about the apparent efforts to find revenue where none really exits. “They are trying to balance this budget out of thin air,” said Tauzin last week.

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