Obama Proposes Spectrum Fee That Would Generate $4.8 Billion

It's baaaaack!

The just-released 2011 federal budget once again includes a spectrum fee on unauctioned spectrum licenses, which would include those held by broadcasters and cable operators.

The administration predicts that fee collections would begin this year and total $4.8 billion through 2020.

The budget historically contains a spectrum fee proposal, and just as historically the fee is eventually excised during the negotiations in Congress before it gets approval from the Hill.

"To promote efficient use of the electromagnetic spectrum, the Administration proposes to provide the Fderal Communications Commission with new authority to use other economic mechanisms, such as fees, as a spectrum management tool," according to the budget, essentially reproducing the 2010 language. "The Commission would be authorized to set user charges on unauctioned spectrum licenses based on spectrum-management principles. Fees would be phased in over time..."

The FCC has been transitioning to an auction model for spectrum, which has the potential to raise billions for the treasury, as witness the approximately $20 billion in raised in the 700 mHz auction of spectrum reclaimed from broadcasters in the DTV switch.

The budget would also extend "indefinitely" the FCC's authority to auction spectrum, an authority that expires Sept.30, 2012.

The new budget also revives the proposal to auction new domestic satellite licenses, which the administration says would raise $200 million by 2020.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.