OMB AWOL on AWS

Most of the energy these days in Washington is understandably focused on the Next Big Auction. And why not? 700 MHz bidding later this year could attract a mix of mobile phone, satellite, WiMAX and other players collectively ready to spend between $10 billion and $15 billion on wireless licenses. Indeed, the coming 700 MHz auction is the main event.
Last year’s advanced wireless services auction is yesterday’s story, except perhaps for many of the 104 bidders who together paid $13.7 billion for 1,087 licenses. Wireless companies, lawmakers and likely Wall Street are getting more ansy by the minute about the stalled bureaucratic process for relocating defense and other government users from the 1710-1755 MHz band to other frequencies. The band represents one half of the AWS 90 megahertz allocation. The other half-2110-2155 MHz-also has some nagging relocation issues.
The 2004 law guaranteeing federal agencies reimbursement (via transfer of some AWS auction monies to a fund) requires the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to report to Congress on relocation costs and timelines.
The estimated $936 million in relocation funds cannot be distributed to federal agencies until 30 days after the OMB director submits the report to key committees, so long as Congress has no objections. Industry expected the report to be delivered to Congress in October. OMB has yet to act.
“The sooner the relocation process gets underway, the sooner the 104 companies that won licenses in the FCC auction can deploy new broadband wireless services,” a bipartisan group of senators wrote Michael Bopp, OMB associate director for general government programs.
They understandinlgy urged Bopp to step on it.
Cellphone association CTIA and eight AWS licensees also weighed in with Bopp. OMB and NTIA have not said what the hang-up is.
It’s hard to see how OMB is furthering President Bush’s goal of affordable, omnipresent broadband in 2007.

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