Updated 8:30 pm
House and Senate negotiators on Wednesday were finalizing the details of spectrum legislation that is now expected to be part of a payroll tax cut package.
"We're just about there," House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., told reporters. Upton, along with Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., are members of the House-Senate payroll tax conference committee and are working on the spectrum provisions.
Negotiators were trying to finish their work Wednesday night so they could hold a vote in the House as early as Friday on the payroll tax cut package.
The negotiators want to use the spectrum legislation to help pay for the payroll tax cut package. The spectrum legislation would authorize incentive auctions, from which the Federal Communications Commission to could give broadcasters and other spectrum holders a share of the revenues from the spectrum they relinquish. Auctions could raise billions for the Treasury depending on how the legislation is structured. The Congressional Budget Office projected that spectrum legislation approved late last year by Walden's subcommittee and included in the House's version of the payroll tax package would generate $16.7 billion for the Treasury.
"It's all about the money," Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said.
Walden's bill, along with spectrum legislation passed last summer by the Senate Commerce Committee, also authorized funding and frequency for the creation of a national broadband network for public safety officials. How that network should be governed was among several policy issues that divided House and Senate lawmakers and House Republicans and Democrats. The negotiators may decide to leave some of the details of the public safety network to the FCC and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration to tackle.
"We've made great progress and are very close to a historic milestone--creation of a new nationwide communications network for our first responders," Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a statement. "My expectation is that we will be able to include this legislative language in the compromise payroll deal that is close to being finalized. Although we continue to hash out some of the finer points of the legislation, the end result should be the same: a new communications network that will save lives and generate economic growth."
Other thorny issues include whether the FCC should be restricted from freeing up more spectrum for unlicensed uses such as Wi-Fi.
Tech firms, wireless carriers and public safety officials have been keen for Congress to move forward on spectrum legislation. "Congress needs to take action before the looming spectrum crisis throws a cold blanket on one of the bright spots in the U.S. economy right now - mobile broadband," Qualcomm Vice President of Government Affairs Alice Tornquist said in a blog post on the issue Wednesday.