WASHINGTON Feb 15 U.S. communications
regulators could auction off some television airwaves and
compensate broadcasters from a portion of the proceeds under a
provision tucked into a payroll tax compromise reached by
lawmakers on Wednesday.
The Federal Communications Commission has called for
repurposing TV airwaves for mobile broadband use since 2010.
Until now the agency lacked the congressional authority to
divert funds away from the Treasury to give broadcasters a
financial incentive to return unused spectrum licenses.
Congressional aides and industry sources confirmed the
inclusion of the auction authority in the payroll bill.
Wireless carriers like AT&T Inc, Sprint Nextel Corp
and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon
Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, have
clamored for more airwaves to stave off a looming spectrum
crunch that would mean more dropped calls and slower connection
speeds for wireless customers.
The growing use of wireless devices like Apple Inc's
iPad tablet and Google's suite of
Android-powered smartphones has added to the urgency to find
The first auction of television spectrum is still likely
years away, industry sources said, because of the time it will
take for the FCC to develop rules for the new auctions and to
seek public comment.
The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are expected to
approve the year-long extension to payroll tax cuts by Friday,
before lawmakers leave for a week-long recess.
Auction proceeds would help legislators meet about half of
the roughly $30 billion in savings needed under the compromise
to extend President Barack Obama's tax cut for 160 million
workers through Dec. 31.
Recent wrangling over the provision had centered on whether
the FCC would be able to retain its authority to set auction
rules that help smaller or minority-owned firms to compete with
larger companies for spectrum.
The top executives at Sprint Nextel, Deutsche Telekom AG's
T-Mobile USA and other smaller carriers had pushed
for this flexibility, but AT&T accused them of wanting the FCC
to stack the deck in their favor.
Under the compromise reached, industry sources said the FCC
would not be barred from adopting auction rules that promote
One source added that the FCC would have to open for public
comment any decision to restrict a company from buying spectrum
in a given market.