FRONT of HOUSE — March 2012
Change Language:
FCC To Auction Reclaimed TV Channels

WASHINGTON, DC — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could auction off some television airwaves (and compensate TV broadcasters from a portion of the proceeds) under a provision in the payroll tax compromise reached by Congress in mid-February. HR 3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 cleared the Senate in a 60-36 vote shortly after the House approved it 293-132. President Obama signed the measure into law Feb. 22.

Lawmakers agreed to auction a estimated $22B worth of spectrum, then use $7B to fund for a nationwide “D-Block” LTE network for emergency first responders. The remaining $15B will (eventually) pay roughly half of the $30B required to extend last year’s payroll tax cut for 160 million middle class workers that reduce taxes by $1 for every $50 earned below $110K.

Under their 2010 National Broadband Plan, the FCC called for repurposing TV airwaves for mobile broadband use, proposing auctions to turn over 120 MHz (20 TV channels) of the UHF TV band to private use for Super WiFi that could provide broadband wireless internet to rural areas. Until now, the FCC lacked congressional authority to divert funds away from the Treasury and give broadcasters a financial incentive to return UHF licenses.

Wireless carriers like AT&T, Sprint, Nextel, Verizon and Vodafone have lobbied for more UHF airwaves to stave off a looming spectrum crunch that could mean more dropped calls and slower connection speeds for wireless customers. Growing use of wireless devices like iPad, iPhone and Android smart phones has added to the urgency.