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Pols move to stop FCC airwave auction

Full floor vote expected next week

WASHINGTON–An influential Capitol Hill committee approved emergency legislation Thursday that would stop the federal government’s June 19 auction of airwaves used by broadcasters operating on channels 60-69, saying it’s too early in the game to get top dollar from the wireless biz for the spectrum.

As it stands now, Federal Communications Commission chair Michael Powell says there is nothing he can do to stop the auction, short of an act of Congress. The auction has already been delayed several times.

Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.), chair of the House Commerce Committee, hopes the full floor will vote on the emergency legislation next week.

“These auctions are simply not ready for primetime,” Tauzin said.

Senate uncertain

But whether Tauzin and other pols pushing to delay the auction can convince the Senate to approve the emergency action is unclear. At least one Senate solon, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), is prepared to introduce legislation keeping the FCC auction date as is.

The Bush administration, however, is squarely in Tauzin’s camp. In a letter to solons, Commerce Secretary Don Evans agreed it’s too early for the auction of analog airwaves now used by broadcasters, considering that TV station owners aren’t yet ready to return the spectrum.

When setting the auction schedule in the mid-1990s, Capitol Hill and the TV biz assumed the digital TV transition would be completed much more quickly. Since broadcasters are still years away from flipping the digital switch, the wireless biz said it’s unfair to make them pay now for analog spectrum they won’t actually get their hands on for years to come.

Paxson’s picture

Broadcaster Lowell “Bud” Paxson, who operates multiple stations on channels 60-69, has come up with a scheme whereby those bidding in the FCC auction would then pay him and other broadcasters to clear the spectrum early.

Tauzin and other lawmakers don’t believe broadcasters should get the early buyout, considering they don’t own the airwaves in the first place –the public does.

Also Thursday, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would set aside proceeds of the FCC auctions for a public interest trust fund to be used for educational purposes and broadband deployment.