As Congress debates debt ceiling legislation on what many Democrats are calling the precipice of a disastrous credit default, religious broadcasters cautioned about the impact of incentive auction language in the Senate version proposed by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
In a statement Friday, National Religious Broadcasters President Frank Wright said Reid's plan would put many of his noncommercial broadcast station members "in a very precarious spot as it could auction away their future."
The Reid bill incentive auction language does not contain protections for broadcast coverage areas or signal quality contained in some of the stand-along incentive auction legislation.
"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling includes provisions for an incentive auction of airwaves currently licensed to television broadcasters and a repacking of non-participating broadcasters elsewhere on the spectrum," said NRB in a statement. "It does not include protections for those broadcasters against signal degradation, loss of services, and other deleterious effects."
Since Harry Reid has asked for input on how his bill might be changed to make it more palatable to its critics, it is possible the incentive auction legislation could be dropped as one of those changes, or more broadcaster protections inserted, possibly by replacing it with language from the stand-along Rockefeller incentive auction bill that at least directs the FCC to make its best effort at protecting broadcasters.
One argument for change rather than stripping out the language is both that the auctions represent a few billion in debt reduction dollars, but perhaps even more so that it would pay for an interoperable, emergency broadband communications network and get that on the books before the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
The Boehner bill contains no incentive auction language, so if that bill becomes the vehicle for compromise the auction issue would be moot.
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