House Spectrum Bill Talks Appear Stalled

Rep. Walden sets end-of-year goal

Last week, it seemed like there might finally be some movement on Congress' long-delayed plans to pass a bill authorizing a spectrum auction, as news leaked that the House Energy & Commerce Committee would schedule a mark up of a bill as soon as Tuesday of this week. Now it looks like that was wishful thinking. 

Instead of conducting a mark up, on Tuesday afternoon Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who chairs the relevant subcommittee, put out the kind of boilerplate statement that, translated, essentially means there's been little movement: "For five months, we have been negotiating in earnest to find common ground on spectrum reform . . . Members on both sides of the aisle are committed to getting the policy right, which is why we continue to avoid any arbitrary deadlines for action. However, I have set a personal goal to advance legislation by the end of this year."

Both Republicans and Democrats are being tight-lipped about what is holding up agreement on a bill. Washington insiders believe that the sticking point is the question of whether or not to allocate a portion of the spectrum directly to public safety. Republicans prefer to auction that spectrum, while Democrats prefer to give spectrum to public safety officials for free in order to build out an interoperable public safety network.

If the House is unable to come up with a bipartisan bill, then authorization for a spectrum auction—which could raise more than $25 billion—may wind up as a line item from the "super committee" currently working to come up with deficit reduction measures.