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Spectrum Policy Rush Hour as Deadline Nears

As legislators continued to work on a payroll tax extension package that includes spectrum incentive auctions, they were getting plenty of advice from industry players.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at a press conference said he was hopeful the package would contain a version of the bill that allowed the FCC to maximize the benefits for spectrum reclamation for all, which means without the conditions backed by Republicans that would limit the FCC's allocation of more unlicensed spectrum and its ability to put any conditions on auction bidders.

Elsewhere, unlicensed backers Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Darrell Issa (D-Calif.) called on their colleagues to protect access to unlicensed spectrum, scheduling a Capitol Hill event for Feb. 16, the day before the effective deadline for coming up a payroll package to extend the tax cut and unemployment benefits.

CTIA: The Wireless Association President Steve Largent sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging them to keep spectrum incentive auction legislation in the package. Given that the auctions are helping pay for the tax cut and benefits to the tune of as much as $20 billion, there is reason for hope the auctions will remain in this bill after having been excised from earlier versions of compromise spending legislation.

The fact that it would fund an emergency broadband network that was a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission could also help its chances of inclusion.

But with the debate continuing over FCC conditions and curbing unlicensed allocation flexibility, which Republicans have favored and Democrats have blasted, there is no guarantee it would survive this time around either.

Largent clearly felt the need to put in his pitch. "I write to urge the House-Senate conferees working toward agreement on HR 3630, the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011, to reach accord on spectrum legislation so that it can be included in any agreement the conference committee may produce," he said.

Over at the Free State Foundation, a think tank that has long advocated FCC reform, Free State President Randolph May was arguing that the debate over whether to allow the FCC to put conditions on the bidders has wider implications for communications law and policy generally, his point being that the public interest standard gives the FCC too much discretion, potentially lawless discretion, to act in the political, not the public, interest.