RealTime IT News

Congress Moves to Delay Auction

With time running out before the Congressional-mandated June 19 deadline, Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced a bill late Wednesday afternoon that would eliminate the deadlines for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to auction off airwaves currently used by television broadcasters.

"This bill will eliminate the statutory deadlines that have prompted the FCC to schedule auction in June for spectrum in the 700 MHz band currently occupied by television broadcasters," Tauzin said in a statement. "I believe that this legislation should not be necessary to preclude the Commission from conducting the auctions in June. The FCC currently has the authority to delay these auctions, and should do so."

A bipartisan group of 50 congressmen joined Tauzin and the committee's ranking minority member, John Dingell, in sponsoring the bill.

The bill, which would do away with a 1997 Congressional mandate, seemingly clears the way for the FCC to put off the June 19 sale of the channels 52-69 used by broadcasters. The FCC is already two years overdue in selling off channels 60-69. At present, the law requires the FCC to sell channels 52-69 by Sept. 30.

But most everyone involved in the auction wants to delay it. U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans sent the FCC a letter asking for a delay, while the Bush Administration has proposed giving the FCC until Sept. 2004 to sell channels 60-69 and Sept. 2006 for channels 52-59.

The wireless industry itself wants more time to better gauge when the spectrum would become available. An industry trade group, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, petitioned the FCC earlier this month to delay the auction. But the FCC said its hands were tied, since Congress imposed the deadline and would have to remove it.

The channels to be auctioned are the parts of the spectrum assigned broadcasters, who are to return them as they move to digital. As the law is now, broadcasters are not compelled to give up the analog channels until 2006 or digital penetration reaches 85 percent.