House Votes to Delay Spectrum Auction

Momentum to delay, or altogether eliminate, the June 19 spectrum auction by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continued to build Tuesday as the House approved on a voice vote, H.R. 4560, the “Auction Reform Act of 2002.” The legislation eliminates statutory deadlines for auctions of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, airwaves currently being used by television broadcasters but scheduled to be turned back to the government as broadcasters transition to digital television signals.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by John Ensign (R.-Nev.) and John Kerry (D.-Mass.) and is expected to pass in time to halt the FCC auction.

The FCC has already delayed the auction for the airwaves used by channels 60-69 five times. The Commission is also under a legal mandate to sell airwaves used by channels 52-59 by Sept. 30.

In mid-April, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), a trade association whose members would be the primary bidders for the spectrum, asked the FCC to delay the auction but the agency’s wireless bureau turned down the request. Adding to pressure to delay the sale also came from U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans in a letter to the FCC asking the agency to postpone the June sale until Congress decides if it wants to extend or eliminate the auction deadline.

The wireless community wants the delay the auction in order to gain a better feel for when the spectrum might actually be available in order to access market conditions and to develop business plans.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said any delay in the auction date should come from Congress since it wrote the original law.

“Congress has moved with great speed and vigor to delay the 700 MHz auctions,” said Tom Wheeler, president and chief executive officer of CTIA. “Public safety, the wireless industry and the administration agree there is little to gain and much to lose if the auctions move forward. We hope the FCC will respond to the House’s swift actions with a swift response of their own to delay the 700 MHz June auctions.”

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R.-La.) said in introducing the legislation, “This bill will eliminate the statutory deadlines that have prompted the FCC to schedule auctions in June for spectrum in the 700 MHz band currently occupied by television broadcasters. The bill will also prevent the FCC from conducting Auctions 31 and 44 on June 19, when they are scheduled to be conducted. Finally, H.R. 4560 will require the Commission to report to Congress one year after the date of enactment regarding when the FCC intends to reschedule the auctions and the progress that has been made regarding the DTV transition and the allocation and assignment of spectrum for advanced commercial mobile services.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows the broadcasters until at least 2006 to relinquish the spectrum and transition to digital signals although other mandates require the spectrum by sold no later than Sept. 30.

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