Getting a 'Reid' on Spectrum Auctions


At press time, the Rep. Harry Reid-backed debt ceiling bill still included incentive auction language that lacks the protections for broadcasters’ coverage areas and signal quality that broadcasters have been pressing for.

The National Association of Broadcasters has said it did not oppose making incentive auctions part of the debt ceiling bill, but only if it got the policy right and made clear that not making protections for current signal coverage and signal quality a part of the FCC’s spectrum reclamation mandate is not the right policy.

Reid (D-Nev.), Senate majority leader, was pitching his bill, on which he may hold a late-weekend vote, as the last, best hope to avoid an Aug. 2 default date for U.S. debt obligations.

Reid said Friday he was open to suggestions, including from Republicans, on how to improve the bill and make it more palatable to its critics.

Among the possible scenarios for the spectrum auction portion is that it gets stripped out on the way to a compromise Reid bill that averts the default crisis. Another would be replacing the incentive auction language with the Rockefeller incentive auction bill, which is slightly more broadcaster-friendly than Reid language, but not broadcasters’ ideal since it only instructs the FCC to make its best effort to replicate coverage areas and interference protections for broadcasters repacked after spectrum reclamation.

Another is that the incentive auction language is not a deal-breaker for either side and, if the Reid bill passes, incentive auctions are approved as is.

The House bill backed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has no incentive auction language, so if that became the vehicle of choice, incentive auctions would revert to stand-alone bill status.

At press time (1:06 p.m.), there was no clear path forward for either of the bills.