Powell would let stations sell spectrum

Oct 29, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Broadcasters may soon be able to get a healthy premium for their frequencies by selling them to wireless radio operators and other nonbroadcasters who are currently barred from the bidding.
At least that’s a reform Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell identified last week as one of his top agency priorities.
“The nation’s approach to spectrum allocation is seriously fractured,” Mr. Powell said. “The spectrum allocation system is not effectively moving spectrum to its highest and best uses in a timely manner.”
As it stands, spectrum is allocated for specific uses. For instance, broadcast TV spectrum now, even when sold, is restricted to TV use only.
At a press conference, Mr. Powell advocated changing the ground rules to permit the highest bidder to use any spectrum for any purpose-as long as it doesn’t cause interference to other spectrum users.
“I don’t tell you what car to drive, but I’ll tell you what speed to drive,” Mr. Powell said. “That would allow spectrum to have more liquidity and move more efficiently.”
“If a broadcaster has spectrum which it doesn’t value highly, but there is a new innovative data application that values it very highly, a market would say, `Facilitate conditions to let that person [the data person] buy it from that person [the broadcaster],”’ Mr. Powell said.
But representatives of watchdog groups vowed to fight the chairman.
“Michael Powell is going to participate in one of the biggest giveaways to the broadcast industry we’ve ever seen,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
Added Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project: “The law is very clear that free, over-the-air broadcasting is given special treatment, special immunity from challenges and free licenses in exchange for using the spectrum for broadcasting. The policy change he’s talking about is perfectly logical, but that’s not the bargain the American people and Congress made.”#