Turns out that it was, in fact, noncommercial broadcasters, not commercial, who came up with the $3 billion figure that made its way into the Republican version of the spectrum incentive auction bill and had Democrats complaining about the size of that proposed broadcaster pay-out.
The Republicans had proposed setting aside "up to" $3 billion to compensate the broadcasters who did not give up spectrum for the expense of being moved or repacked to free up contiguous blocks of spectrum for auction to wireless broadband. The money would also go to cable and satellite operators for any technical adjustments to receive and retransmit the new signals.
According to a spokesperson for the Association of Public Television Stations, it was indeed that group that asked for $3 billion. "Our engineers calculated that $3 billion was the number we needed -- $2 million to $3 million per station [commercial and noncommercial] -- and we asked for $3 billion accordingly. We're very grateful to Chairman [Greg Walden (R-Ore.)] and his House colleagues for supporting this request."
Some Democrats during markup of that spectrum bill, notably California Democrats Reps. Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo, had been critical of that $3 billion figure, pointing to the Congressional Budget Office estimate of more like $1 billion in relocation expenses, and asking Republicans why they had tripled that figure.
Walden, chair of the Communications Subcommittee and author of the bill, pointed out that the $3 billion was a cap and that it might not take that much. Waxman shot back that one thing Republicans frequently said, and he agreed with, is that caps also usually become the floor as well (given the reluctance to leave money on the table). But Walden had also suggested the request had come from noncommercial broadcasters.
The House bill was rolled into the Republican payroll tax holiday extension package that passed the House last week, then was removed before the bill was approved by the Senate. But House Republicans were rejecting that compromise, and at least one, Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chair of the Energy & Commerce Committee, Tuesday during House floor debate was extolling the virtues of the original House bill, including the spectrum auctions.
House Speaker John Boehner wants the Senate to come back and conference on compromise between those bills, with Upton and Walden both named to the conference committee by the speaker Tuesday afternoon.