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.

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