Harry Reid debt ceiling bill could damage TV


As the deadline on a deal to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a national default situation looms, competing proposals are surfacing in Washington. One from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would be worth $2.7T in cuts, and part of his package is authorization for broadcast spectrum sales. But Reid’s relatively bare-boned clauses on this part of his package offer little cover for TV broadcasters.

Among many other things, Reid’s proposal would authorize the FCC to conduct voluntary spectrum auctions. It says that licensees who are willing to give up spectrum are authorized to share the wealth generated by any subsequent auction of that spectrum.

It gives the FCC authority to repack the television band at its discretion in the public interest, and to use some of the auction proceeds to reimburse any broadcasters forced to incur expense moving to a new channel.

It does not offer any guarantee that displaced broadcasters will be able to replicate the signal contour they are giving up, and it leaves it up to the proper authorities to determine auction share and moving expense reimbursement amounts.

NAB is trying to avoid exactly this type of hasty spectrum bill. NAB’s Dennis Wharton said, “NAB is deeply concerned about provisions currently in Senate Majority Leader Reid’s legislation that would threaten the future of a great American institution — free and local television. We will work with him as the process moves forward in hopes that our issues can be addressed.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Spectrum policy is and has always been a difficult matter. Beyond the basic conflict of competing interests vying for a valuable resource, there are underlying technical and scientific issues that require careful, deliberate policy-making. A hair-raising down-to-the-wire high stakes political battle with trillions of dollars on the line is definitely not the proper venue.