Spectrum auctions dropped as a deal is cut on Capitol Hill


The US Senate on Saturday passed legislation which will avoid a government shutdown and extend the Social Security payroll tax cut – but the deal between Republicans and Democrats will only keep the government funded through February, so it’s back to bargaining after the holidays. In any case, spectrum auctions are not part of the stop-gap measure.

The House had been expected to add its approval of the temporary measure early in the week and send it to President Obama for his signature. But then Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) dropped a bombshell on Sunday, saying that the House would not approve the Senate measure because it runs for only two months. So there is going to be more bargaining right away.

The idea of authorizing the FCC to conduct voluntary auctions of TV spectrum, with the government splitting proceeds with the licensees who volunteer to put their spectrum on the auction block, will certainly be back as negotiations resume on a longer-term government funding package. The main dispute has been over how much of the supposed windfall will have to be allocated to relocate TV stations who don’t participate in order to clear spectrum for auction to wireless broadband companies. The House figure was $3 billion, while the Senate wanted only $1 billion.

Broadcasters, represented by the NAB, have held steadfast in the position that the spectrum auctions are fine, so long as they are truly voluntary and no broadcaster is harmed by the repacking of the TV band. 

RBR-TVBR observation: We continue to believe that there will be so few volunteers for voluntary spectrum auctions that the billions and billions of dollars dreamed of by lawmakers will never materialize. The House and Senate (and the FCC) are wasting a lot of time and energy on a pipe dream.