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Lawmakers seek analog slowdown

Apr 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The White House and top congressional lawmakers are turning up the heat on the Federal Communications Commission to postpone a June 19 auction of spectrum used by dozens of analog television channels.
The FCC wants to free up the spectrum so advanced wireless services can bid on it.
Four lawmakers plan to introduce legislation this week to indefinitely delay the upcoming auction of the channels, analog frequencies 52 to 59 and 60 to 69.
The lawmakers are House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.; Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.; Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., head of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet; and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
“We’ve scheduled [the auctions] because Congress said to schedule them, not because it represents a good telecommunications plan,” said Colin Crowell, legislative assistant to Rep. Markey.
“Sotheby’s doesn’t schedule an auction on a particular date and then figure out what around the neighborhood they can sell,” he said.
“This auction simply was not ready for prime time,” Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said.
Both the White House and the lawmakers agree that clearing the bands now of the TV channels doesn’t make sense because there are many unresolved issues regarding the future of wireless services and the transition to digital TV.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration repeated a request that the FCC hold off. “Too much uncertainty remains to move forward with the auctioning of this spectrum,” Commerce Secretary Don Evans wrote FCC Chairman Michael Powell in an April 17 letter.
The White House is pushing its own bill that postpones the 60 to 69 auction to 2004 and the 52 to 59 auction to 2006.
Paxson Communications and other companies owning stations on the bands stand to be big losers if legislation passes.
Since these broadcasters would be returning their analog frequencies well before the federal deadline, they convinced the FCC to approve an incentive plan: The auction winners would compensate them for vacating the bands early.
That’s all in jeopardy as lawmakers move ahead with their legislation. Paxson Communications Chairman Lowell “Bud” Paxson does not think the legislation will pass.
Broadcasters are not required to return their analog spectrum to the government until 2006 or later.