Hill leaders ready to delay auction


Congressional leaders have reached a deal that would delay the June 19
auction of television spectrum now used for channels 52 through 59, Capitol Hill
sources said.

Under the plan, most bidding would be postponed indefinitely, while portions
of the spectrum would be parceled out no later than September.

The agreement was brokered between leaders of the House Energy and Commerce
Committee and Sen. Ted Stevens, the ranking Republican on the Senate
Appropriations Committee.

Stevens has been pushing for the bidding to go ahead as soon as possible
because a company based in his home state of Alaska hopes to roll out new
wireless services there and in the lower 48 states.

The plan calls for bidding to proceed in the so-called C and D blocks.
The C block contains two 6-megahertz channels now used for channels 54 and 59,
and it will be sold in 734 licenses covering individual metropolitan and rural

The D block contains what is now channel 55, and it will be sold as six licenses
each covering large regions of the country.

Down payments for the A, B, and E blocks now in escrow at the Federal
Communications Commision will be refunded.

The necessary legislation will be added as an amendment to one of several
House-passed bills now waiting Senate approval.

After Senate passage, the revised measure will go back to the House for
approval of the changes.

Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), the House Energy and Commerce
Committee's chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, along with the wireless industry,
have fought for a delay in TV-spectrum auctions for channels 52 through 69,
which previously were scheduled to go on the block June 19.

The Federal Communications Commission has already delayed bidding for channels 60 through 69 until Jan. 14.

Supporters of the delay are particularly incensed by a controversial plan that
would allow incumbent broadcasters to negotiate early buyout deals potentially
worth billions of dollars in return for relinquishing the spectrum quickly.

Under current law, broadcasters are not required to give up the channels
until the transition to digital transmissions is complete.

The switch is ostensibly scheduled to end in 2006, but it is expected to take
much longer.