NEW YORK — Capitol Hill rushed through emergency legislation late Tuesday that delays today’s scheduled FCC auction of broadcast spectrum used by TV channels 52-59.
Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) expected FCC topper Michael Powell to suspend the auction at least 24 hours until President Bush endorses the bill.
“The president has given us every indication that he will sign the bill into law,” top Tauzin aide Ken Johnson said. An FCC spokesman said the auction would indeed be suspended by at least a day.
Once the measure clears the White House, the FCC would be under order to put off the auction until later this year, or next year. The bill also lays out a new timetable for additional auctions of broadcast spectrum.
The emergency measure was crafted by Tauzin and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who have spent the last week negotiating terms with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The Senate approved the bill; the U.S. House of Representatives followed suit.
Tauzin and other lawmakers successfully argued that it’s too early in the game to hold the analog auctions, since wireless companies and other bidders don’t want to pay top dollar for spectrum they won’t get their hands on for potentially years to come.
“It’s imperative that we maximize the value of this important resource,” Johnson said.
The auctioning of analog broadcast spectrum underpins the transition to digital TV, with the idea being that Washington will auction off the spectrum as broadcasters switch to digital and return the analog bandwidth.
The original timetable for the auctions, however, has been thrown off due to the stalled digital transition, with broadcasters far from ready to go all-digital.