YOU ARE AT:Archived ArticlesKERREY BILL WOULD REQUIRE MINIMUM BIDS AT SPECTRUM AUCTIONS

KERREY BILL WOULD REQUIRE MINIMUM BIDS AT SPECTRUM AUCTIONS

WASHINGTON-The government’s recent disappointing wireless auction and the prospect of failing to meet the administration’s five-year, $36 billion auction revenue goal prompted more fallout on Capitol Hill last week, including introduction of legislation by Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) to mandate minimum bids in future spectrum auctions.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, is seriously considering various options to make broadcasters pay for free digital TV channels as part of a larger bill to steady a Federal Communications Commission auction program that some say is out of control.

The White House wants Congress to assess a fee on broadcasters if auction revenues do not meet the administration’s $36 billion projection from wireless license sales through 2002, the year by which Democrats and Republicans want the budget balanced. The broadcast industry is lobbying furiously to kill the fee initiative.

The combination of the auction slump and the Justice Department investigation of alleged auction collusion led one Senate aide to predict hearings in the near future.

McCain also is sponsoring legislation that would reserve 24 megahertz from TV channels 60-69 for public safety communications and help underwrite the buildout of new police, fire and emergency medical radio systems with revenue from sales of remaining frequencies in the broadcast band.

The Congressional Budget Office says auction receipts anticipated by the White House through 2002 are $12 billion too high.

But with bankruptcies and financial problems dogging startup personal communications services firms-which account for roughly half of the $22 billion in wireless license sales to date-congressional and White House number crunchers may be forced to reassess future auction estimates again.

The Clinton administration little more than a week ago sent Congress proposed legislation to expand the FCC’s 1993 auction authority, which today is limited to commercial, subscription-based wireless services like paging, mobile telephone and dispatch radio.

“The FCC completed an auction of radio spectrum that should cause every American taxpayer to be concerned,” said Kerrey in prepared statement accompanying the introduction April 30 of “The Reserve Price Act.”

Indeed, legislative interest in spectrum auctions was heightened last week by the disappointing Wireless Communications Service auction, which ended April 25 after generating $13.6 million instead of the $1.8 billion expected by Congress.

Congress and the Clinton administration mandated the WCS auction as part of an appropriations agreement last fall on fiscal 1997 government spending. The budget-driven auction required the FCC to begin bidding on April 15 and to deposit proceeds from license sales by Sept. 30, the day before fiscal 1998 begins.

Some critics blame Congress for the dismal WCS auction in which some licenses went for $1.

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