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Powell defends wireless buyouts

Responding to criticism from a key lawmaker, FCC Chairman Michael Powell Wednesday defended the commission's decision permitting wireless companies to pay broadcasters for early exits from spectrum now used for TV channels 60-69.

"This commission action may actually serve to both increase revenues to the U.S. Treasury through auction funds and facilitate the clearing of these frequencies for new commercial and public safety uses," Powell wrote in a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings.

Last week Hollings complained that the buyouts, which could result in billions of dollars in payments to broadcasters, would unjustly allow TV station owners to benefit for relinquishing spectrum that actually belongs taxpayers.

Powell noted, however, that the early payouts will remove uncertainty that could dampen prices the Treasury receives for the spectrum when it is auctioned June 19.

Broadcasters are not legally obligated to vacate the spectrum until 85% of TV households are equipped to receive digital signals.Bill McConnell