LAS VEGAS - National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith stepped back into his previous life as a U.S. senator at the NAB meeting Tuesday. He says AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile may force lawmakers to question the efficacy of a proposal to persuade broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum to meet the mobile broadband boom.
NAB does not have a position on AT&T's bid to buy its smaller wireless rival T-Mobile, Smith said during a discussion with Federal Communications Commission member Meredith Attwell Baker.
But Smith, a former GOP senator from Oregon, noted that if he were still a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, he would question whether the FCC's proposal for incentive auctions will bring in the predicted proceeds. The FCC proposal, which must be approved by Congress, aims to entice broadcasters to give up their spectrum in exchange for a share of the proceeds from the auction of that spectrum.
T-Mobile has been seen as a likely bidder for any additional spectrum the FCC may offer for auction but a proposed merger with AT&T puts such needs in doubt. Smith said lawmakers will likely wonder if all the proposed revenues that auctions of broadcast spectrum are supposed to provide are plausible, particularly if the AT&T-T-Mobile merger is approved by regulators.
"Were I still a member of the Commerce Committee and looking at budgetary numbers of $30 billion that [incentive auctions are] supposed to provide, and the biggest bidder just walked out, two of them, I would wonder what the options are," Smith said. "So as you begin to start to say, ok, we can compensate broadcasters, we can build out a public safety network we can add to the Treasury, I'm telling you can't do all those things."
Baker declined to comment on the proposed merger since both the FCC and the Justice Department will decide whether to approve the deal.