Bush Spectrum Fee Levy

Mar 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., last week pronounced as “DOA” a Bush administration proposal to sock broadcasters with $500 million in spectrum fees each year until they return their analog channels to the government.
Under the proposal, which was included in President George W. Bush’s federal budget for fiscal 2004, stations would have to start paying the levies in 2007 and keep paying them each year thereafter until they switch to digital.
At an industry lobbying conference organized by the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington last week, Rep. Upton dismissed the proposal as administration “boilerplate.”
“I don’t see that happening,” Rep. Upton said.
But Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who was also at the NAB lobbying confab, said that in a climate of soaring federal budget deficits, broadcasters should beware.
“Your analog spectrum is looking more and more like a budgeteer’s piggy bank,” Rep. Dingell said.
Said a spokesperson for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, in response: “The president believes in his budget and will work hard to get it enacted.”
NAB “talking points” issued to the more than 360 broadcast industry leaders at the conference urged lawmakers to ax the fee proposal on grounds it would hurt broadcasters and the public alike.
“Stations that have completed the digital build-out would be forced to choose either cutting off viewers who have not purchased digital sets or paying a burdensome new tax to continue service to this sizable group of consumers,” the talking points said.
Rep. Upton’s opinion on the issue is important because he chairs the House telecommunications subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over legislation affecting broadcasters, and the White House needs legislation to make the fee happen.
The congressman did not address a second fee proposed in the president’s budget-one that’s not tied to the DTV transition-that would authorize the FCC to assess an additional $1.9 billion in spectrum fees over 10 years for users of “unauctioned spectrum,” starting in 2005.
But the NAB also took aim at that proposal in its talking points, alleging that the provision would damage the nation’s system of broadcasting.
“The $1.9 billion unauctioned spectrum fee is in direct conflict with free over-the-air broadcasting and must also be eliminated from the final budget package,” the NAB said.