Hill leaders rush to delay TV-spectrum auction


Congressional leaders Friday raced to close a deal that would delay the June
19 auction of television spectrum now used for channels 52-through-59, but
whether the legislation could be passed in time to stave off the bidding
remained an open question.

Late last week Federal Communications Commission officials were proceeding as
if the auction would go forward and walked potential bidders though a mockup of
the computerized bidding process.

Under the Capitol Hill 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 will be sold in 734 licenses covering individual metropolitan and rural
areas. The D block contains what is now channel 55 and will be sold as six
licenses each covering large regions of the country.

The necessary legislation would 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 and John Dingell, the House Energy and Commerce
Committee's chairman and ranking Democrat, 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 FCC has already delayed bidding for channels 60-through-69 until Jan. 14.

Supporters of 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 occur in 2006 but is expected to take
much longer.