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Administration Proposes Spectrum Fee as Spectrum Management Tool

According to the President's just-released 2012 budget, the FCC would charge a spcetrum fee to licenseholders--like braodcaseers--that would generate over $4 billion over the next ten years, with the FCC starting to collect the money this year.

But it is described as a "spectrum management" tool, rather than for revenue raising, though it would certainly do the latter.

There is a budget line for the FCC called "enact user fees" that starts at $50 million over the balance of 2011 and increases from $200 million the first full year (2012) to $550 million in 2021 for a total of $4.775 billion.

"To promote efficient use of the electromagnetic spectrum," says the FCC's budget, "the Administration proposes to provide the FCC with new authority to use other economic mechanisms, such as fees, as a spectrum management tool. FCC would be authorized to set user fees on unauctioned spectrum licenses and could be used in instances where incentive auctions are not appropriate."

The National Association of Broadcasters was still vetting the budget proposal at press time, but broadcasters have indicated that if the government charges a fee to broadcasters who remain on their spectrum, that becomes a thumb on the scale for giving up that spectrum and makes it a somewhat less than voluntary proposal.

The White House, in pushing its national wireless initiative, has asked for the authority to pay broadcasters who vacate spectrum, and renewed that as part of the FCC budget request, along with other part s of that plan including the $5 billion onetime infusion of funds into the Universal Service Fund to pay for 4g wireless broadband deployment.

There has been a spectrum fee proposed in previous budgets going back many years, but it has always been excised in the congressional vetting process.

The FCC's budget is set at a little over $354 million, a little over $18 million more than it asked for in 2011.