Spectrum bill details still in dispute


Members of Congress are wrestling with the details of extending an extension in the cut to payroll taxes that many citizens enjoyed during the last year – and once again, a bill to authorize the FCC to conduct incentive auctions of television spectrum is a bargaining chip. A key senator has weighed in, asking that the FCC be given the flexibility to conduct the auctions as it sees fit in order to protect consumers.

Herb Kohl (D-WI), chair of the Senate Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee, wants to make sure that the FCC can make sure that the bidding process is open to more than just the largest telecom companies.

According to a Hillicon Valley report, Kohl said in a letter to conference committee members, “Taking away the authority to structure auctions in a way that will promote competition is a serious threat to consumers and the future of wireless competition in this country.”

Republicans in the House have said that the FCC doesn’t need to do any such thing, that the auctions will be open to all and it is not the Commission’s job to pick winners and losers.

House Communications Subcommittee Chair Greg Walden (R-OR) says that his bill would authorize the FCC to step in if one company wins so much spectrum that it becomes a detriment to competition.

RBR-TVBR observation: We know that while there is much agreement between the two parties, the Democratic Senate and the Republican House also have different ideas as to how to approach the spectrum topic. That should be an issue negotiated without any other distractions.

The many facets of the ongoing fiscal wars are not the proper place for the spectrum issue to be decided. The only thing that the payroll tax and incentive auctions have in common is that they both involve money, and the amount of money tied to spectrum is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the federal deficit that underlies battles like and including the payroll tax cut extension.

It sure would be nice if Congress could conduct the nation’s business in a sane and rational way. But that apparently would require entering into an alternate universe – in this one, the process is less like a reasoned search for effective policy conducted in the greatest deliberative body in the history of the world, and more like a swap meet held on the parking lot of an abandoned drive-in theater.