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Lead and get out of the way

3/04/2001 07:00:00 PM Eastern

The federal budget released last week includes spectrum fees from broadcasters. The budget Congress passes should not. Although it is not explained, the fees appear to be tied to continued use of the analog spectrum, since they begin to be phased out in 2006 and are gone by 2010. As Sen. John McCain and broadcasters agreed last week, the deadlines of 2002 for a digital signal and 2006 for the analog giveback are unrealistic. The budget seems to recognize that, too. By having the fees extend to 2010, it suggests that the return of analog spectrum might not be completed until then, which sounds like a more accurate prediction.

That the transition is delayed should surprise no one. There wasn't even a "hang your hat on it" transmission standard until two months ago. Maybe Congress should have auctioned the spectrum to broadcasters and given them full First-Amendment rights in the bargain, but they didn't and have been complaining about the lost $70 billion ever since. We think resentment over that lost opportunity is what drives some in Congress to want to punish broadcasters by holding them to an unreasonable deadline and taxing them to boot. What they should do is adjust the deadlines, drop the fees and get behind the transition, not in the way of it.

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