One of the things that took Democrats by surprise in the Republican’s bill on spectrum and incentive auctions was the allocation of up to $3B to pay broadcaster for expenses incurred moving to a new channel in a repacking program. Democrats were not against fair treatment for broadcasters; but they expected the ceiling to be more like $1B and thought there were better fiscal choices.
Democrats used the issue to pound away at their support for making spectrum space for unlicensed devices and to give more money to public safety organizations.
Anna Eshoo (D-CA) questioned the $3B broadcast compensation, and wanted to know where it came from. She said $1B was allocated in the Democratic bill. Committee counsel said when they looked into relocation costs, estimates ranged from $1B to $2B, and they allocated $3B to make sure FCC has enough to cover the process in the event the estimates are off-base, while expecting it to be unlikely that the ultimate expenditure would reach that ceiling.
Henry Waxman (D-CA) was astounded that the Republicans would toss an extra billion above the top of the estimate curve in the current fiscal environment.
Greg Walden (R-OR) said it is merely a cap, not an amount to be spent, and confirmed with counsel that there is no requirement that it is to be spent. He also confirmed that it is only to be spent on reasonable costs incurred, and is not a blank check to broadcasters.
Walden defended the treatment of broadcasters, noting that Congress just made them move to digital broadcast, and is now asking them to give up spectrum again and merely wants to compensate them fairly for this, as well as induce participation. He said it was fair and reasonable policy.
Eshoo said she did not question putting in place a fair policy for broadcasters; she wonders why the policy is so unfair to the unlicensed interests. Waxman also said that similarly, the FCC should be granted the ability to provide space for people to operate in white spaces. He thought it odd that the FCC is getting extra cash and authority on the broadcast issue, but is restricted in other elements of the Act.
Eshoo said there is cost-benefit strength in the white space proposal; Waxman said public safety was being short-changed based on what they felt they need; in the face of this, they questioned the extra allocation for potential broadcast compensation.
Walden replied that the whole project is keyed on broadcasters voluntarily giving up spectrum, and that won’t happen unless there is an incentive. He said if the relocation costs turn out to be $1B, then the remainder would eventually make there way to the public safety fund, then the general fund.
In the end, Waxman said it mainly showed that there are still issues to be discussed before the bill goes to full committee.