Tauzin in support of FCC funds increase

Apr 16, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Republican lawmakers are jumping to support more funding for the Federal Communications Commission now that it’s headed by a fellow party member.
Agency Chairman Michael Powell has only been in charge since January, but he has already convinced two powerful GOP members he deserves more resources.
Last week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., became the newest proponent of boosting the FCC’s annual appropriations.
Responding to President George W. Bush’s fiscal year 2002 budget, released last Monday, Rep. Tauzin expressed “deep concern” that the agency’s engineering labs are left underfunded.
“FCC Chairman Michael Powell has made a compelling case to Congress for the need for additional money. Given the FCC’s enormous responsibilities in the digital age, I will personally ask the White House to reconsider the agency’s recommended funding level,” the legislator said.
That’s a dramatic shift in policy for the Louisiana lawmaker, who routinely complained about the FCC under its last two chairmen, both Democrats. Until Mr. Powell took over, Rep. Tauzin focused on reining in the agency’s authority, not boosting its resources.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, has been equally swayed by Mr. Powell.
Sources said the newfound cheerleading is pure politics: The lawmakers are cutting a fellow Republican plenty of slack and are happy to curry favor with a regulator whose dad is Secretary of State Colin Powell.
But Ken Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Tauzin, said Mr. Powell has made a compelling case for additional funding in specific areas.
Even the Bush administration is willing to lend a helping hand. The White House’s budget calls for the FCC to receive $248.5 million in fiscal year 2002 funding, a jump of $18.5 million over its fiscal year 2001 appropriation.
The agency said nearly 40 percent ($7.6 million) of the additional funds would cover mandatory increases in salaries and benefits and inflationary increases for contract services.
The remainder ($10.9 million) would be used to replace outdated equipment and maintain the agency’s technology infrastructure. Meanwhile, the president proposed delaying two broadcast auctions in an effort to raise more revenue later. The auction of spectrum for analog Channels 60 to 69 would be delayed from 2001 to 2004, and the auction of spectrum for Channels 52 to 59 would be delayed from 2002 to 2006.
In addition, the administration will push legislation allowing broadcasters using analog Channels 60 to 69 to clear the spectrum early, increasing its value at auction and paving the way for wireless companies to use it.
In exchange for leaving the spectrum before 2006 or later, the broadcasters would be compensated, the White House said.
That echoes a proposal by Paxson Communications and other broadcasters that want to be compensated by wireless companies for clearing the 60 to 69 band early.
President Bush also wants to impose $200 million in annual fees on television stations until they return their analog spectrum to the government-something Rep. Tauzin has vowed to fight.
The fees are designed to speed the transition to digital, but the congressman says they simply punish broadcasters who are already struggling to transition to DTV.
Last month the White House included the fees in its budget blueprint. They’re also in its detailed budget plan released last week, despite the House Budget Committee’s recent passing of a budget resolution that does not include them.