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McCain Slams Plan to Compensate Broadcasters For Spectrum Reclamation

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to criticize Sen. Harry Reid's debt ceiling plan for including payments to broadcasters as part of incentive auctions (which are in there because they are predicted to raise billions to help pay down that debt).

While giving credit to Reid for at least coming up with a plan, McCain, former chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he understood that having spectrum auctions in there would provide billions of dollars in auction revenues, but suggested he had heard that before.

"I have been in this body for a considerable period of time and I can't tell you the number of times we have called for auctions of spectrum." He called that an annual "cop out" that prevented legislators from making "tough decisions."

He said that, "most egregiously," Reid's plan calls for paying a billion dollars for returning unused spectrum. Actually, the bill sets that money aside to compensate the broadcasters who don't sell off spectrum for any channel repositioning or "repacking:" required to free up contiguous spectrum for wireless broadband. And even that is far under the $2.5 billion NAB has predicted that relocation might cost. But McCain made his point that it pained him to compensate broadcasters as part of the move.

"Television broadcasters got the spectrum for free," said McCain, "now we're supposed to act the taxpayers to give them a billion dollars to give back spectrum that they owe?," he asked before correcting the end of the statement to "that they own," though his original seemed to better capture the tenor of his criticisms.

McCain has long been a critic of broadcasters for what he saw as dragging their feet on returning spectrum for emergency communications as part of the DTV transition.

The incentive auctions in the Reid bill would actually achieve that emergency communications goal by using some of the auction proceeds to pay for and maintain an interoperable broadband emergency communications network.