Bush delays FCC auction of b’cast spectrum

Channels still up for grabs as Congress gets study time

WASHINGTON — Under order of the White House, the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday postponed the auctioning of broadcast spectrum used by TV stations that aren’t anywhere close to clearing the analog band and going all-digital.

President Bush signed emergency legislation passed by Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening. Among other things, the measure instructed FCC chair Michael Powell to call off Wednesday’s skedded auction of spectrum used by TV channels 52-59.

Under the new law, the FCC can hold that particular auction between Aug. 19 and Sept. 19, but it must put off all other auctions for an undetermined time in order to give Congress time to study the matter and develop a new game plan. An FCC spokesman said those instructions would be heeded.

Leading the fight on Capitol Hill were Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who worked with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska.). Dingell and Tauzin said Washington wouldn’t get top dollar for the analog spectrum, considering bidders may not actually get their hands on the bandwidth for years to come.

That’s because of the stalled digital TV transition. Original expectation was that broadcasters would go all-digital by 2006. In the meantime, the FCC would begin holding the auctions, allowing wireless companies to put dibs on the valuable analog spectrum.

Solons were particularly vexed by a plan by broadcaster Lowell “Bud” Paxson to take an early buyout from auction bidders in exchange for clearing the analog spectrum early. Paxson operates numerous TV stations on spectrum used by channels 60-69.

Tauzin and others said it wasn’t fair for broadcasters to get any money from the auction process, since the public, and not the TV stations, owns the analog airwaves — not to mention that broadcasters were given billions of dollars worth of digital spectrum at no charge.