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Congress Still Struggling on Spectrum

Advances made in Congress, but will bill pass in 2011?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

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There's been a lot of pushing and shoving on Capitol Hill this year as Congress has attempted to pass a bill that would free up spectrum for the wireless industry and a national public safety network.

But time is short, and compromise may be too much to ask from one of the most polarized Congresses ever. Still, there was some movement last week that created the tiniest of possibilities that a spectrum bill could hit President Obama's desk by Christmas.

In a concession to Democrats, a House subcommittee advanced a bill last week that would allocate some spectrum to public safety, rather than auctioning it off along with the spectrum voluntarily relinquished by TV broadcasters. The move also brought the House bill closer in line with a bipartisan Senate bill that was voted out of committee in June.

While there is no reason to believe the House bill can't continue on a speedy trajectory to the full Energy and Commerce Committee and then the floor, it's the Senate bill that could hold things up. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week it would not move this year; the only way it could pass before 2012 would be if it were attached to a deficit or omnibus budget bill.

And there are still the ugly details to be hammered out. The surer bet for passage is early next year.