Whether the controversial debt ceiling proposal put forward by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., advances or not, spectrum legislation he put in the bill is facing its own obstacles.
Reid’s proposal includes legislation that would raise $15 billion to help pay down the deficit by persuading TV stations, the federal government, and other users of spectrum to give some of it up for sale.
Reid’s spectrum language includes many provisions similar to those in a bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last month aimed at building a national broadband public safety network and freeing up spectrum for mobile broadband technologies.
“The spectrum piece of Leader Reid’s bill is very good. We continue to work closely with the White House and other parties in the debt talks to make sure that the final version reflects our early goals—including a key component to this, which is essential funding for rural deployment,” a spokesman for Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a statement.
“Ultimately, this plan mirrors Chairman Rockefeller’s legislation in many ways and would help us get the nationwide network built and operable to help ensure public safety.”
The National Association of Broadcasters released a statement Tuesday, however, voicing strong concerns with the Reid proposal. Like the Commerce Committee bill, Reid’s measure would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive auctions, enticing broadcasters and others to give up some frequencies in exchange for a share of the proceeds. Broadcasters say they can accept incentive auctions as long as they include provisions protecting those broadcasters who choose not to participate.
"NAB is deeply concerned about provisions currently in Senate Majority Leader Reid's legislation that would threaten the future of a great American institution—free and local television,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in a statement. “We will work with him as the process moves forward in hopes that our issues can be addressed."
Wharton said the Reid spectrum legislation does not include some key protections broadcasters are seeking. They include protections against forcing broadcasters to share channels and assurances that broadcasters forced to move to a new channel would be able to replicate their existing coverage area. In addition, he noted that the Reid measure does not require the FCC to compensate broadcasters for giving up their spectrum or for moving to a different channel.
Reid’s spectrum language also will likely face pushback from House Republicans. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled their own spectrum bill earlier this month. Unlike the Senate Commerce bill and the Reid measure, the House GOP measure would not reallocate a chunk of spectrum known as the D block to public safety officials for their public safety network. Instead, the GOP draft would auction off the D block to commercial bidders, as required by current law, and use the proceeds to pay down the deficit.
So far, the debt ceiling proposal that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, proposed Monday does not include spectrum legislation. But Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that as part of the process set up by Boehner’s measure, he expects Energy and Commerce will likely be directed to come up with ways to reduce the deficit. He said spectrum legislation would likely be part of that.
The $15 billion that Reid says would come from spectrum sales for deficit reduction is well above what the Congressional Budget Office estimates would come from the Senate Commerce bill.
CBO estimates that Senate Commerce bill would raise $24.5 billion from spectrum sales but would only leave $6.5 billion for deficit reduction because of the other provisions in the bill, including $12.5 billion for the creation of a public safety network. Reid’s spectrum measure would only allocate $7 billion for the public safety network.