Auction dispute grinds on

Jun 17, 2002  •  Post A Comment

There’s an old expression in Washington: “There are two things that you never want to see being made: laws and sausages.”
That sums up the behind-the-scenes wrangling that occurred last week with congressional efforts to broker a compromise over the Federal Communications Commission’s scheduled June 19 auction of analog broadcast spectrum.
One camp, led by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., offered a bill to indefinitely delay the auction of analog TV channels 52 to 59 and 60 to 69.
Rep. Tauzin worries that the auction won’t raise much revenue because it’s unclear when broadcasters will vacate the channels as part of their digital conversion.
In another camp stands Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who introduced a bill to let the auctions proceed so rural wireless phone companies in his state and elsewhere could acquire the spectrum.
The FCC has since delayed the 60 to 69 auction until January 2003.
At deadline, lawmakers had tentatively agreed to postpone the bulk of the planned 52 to 59 auction but allow a limited portion of the frequencies to be bid on to appease Sen. Stevens.
Meanwhile, efforts by Sen. Stevens and other senators to quickly pass a bill in the upper chamber reflecting the agreement hit a snag as video and phone upstart Northpoint Technology sought to tack an unrelated amendment onto the measure.
A source said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., were pushing the amendment, which would let Northpoint acquire other spectrum it needs for its planned service without bidding on it.
The offices of Sen. Harkin and Sen. Dodd did not return phone calls, and Northpoint declined comment.
The political sausage-making is expected to continue this week with a possible attempt by lawmakers to rush their bill through Congress by Wednesday.
All this can make even the most seasoned political observer ask, “Anyone up for veggie dogs?”