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B’casters cut in front on infopike

In a boost for broadcasters, the Clinton administration has signaled support for a plan permitting TV and radio stations to use part of their spectrum for data transmission and other new business opportunities.

Larry Irving, the head of the Commerce Dept. agency that advises President Clinton on telecommunications, said in a letter to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that “more flexible use (of the spectrum) should be permitted and encouraged” provided traditional broadcasting remains the top priority of radio and TV sta-tions and that they don’t shirk public-interest responsibilities.

Radio and TV station “spectrum flexibility” has emerged as a hot topic in the information superhighway debate. Markey’s House telecommunications subcommittee recently postponed a vote on a spectrum flexibility plan offered by Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-La.) after several lawmakers — including Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) — expressed skepticism.

Dingell’s concerns now appear to have been assuaged; an aide to the lawmaker said he is fashioning an amendment with Tauzin likely to meet broadcast industry approval. Dingell’s House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to vote on the plan — along with the entire information-highway package — next week.

Broadcasters are arguing for the right to offer ancillary services on part of the spectrum that may go unused after they switch to a new digital high-definition TV transmission system.

The cellular-telephone industry and some consumer groups view the proposal as a “broadcaster-spectrum grab.” Time Warner is opposed out of fear that broadcasters would use spectrum to compete in the delivery of personal communications services, a new pocket-telephone technology.

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