Government to Auction Off Public Airwaves

Payroll tax compromise could lead to faster wireless speeds
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2012 9:31 AM CST
Government to Auction Off Public Airwaves
In this file photo taken July 16, 2008, workers are seen at the construction of a cellular telephone antenna tower in Lakewood, NJ.   (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

Congress is expected to approve a bill that would sell off public airwaves currently used for television to wireless Internet companies, speeding up broadband for mobile devices across the country, while at the same time creating a long-sought-after national communications network for emergency services. What is this revolutionary communications bill? The payroll tax holiday extension. Yes, the New York Times points out, the sweeping changes come not as part of a communications policy effort, but as part of an effort to raise revenue.

Republicans had insisted that the bill's extension of unemployment benefits be fully paid for, and the spectrum sale should generate more than $25 billion—though some of that will go to pay for the public safety network, leaving about $15 billion to put toward the $30 billion benefits extension. The FCC praised Congress for acting to speed up broadband, but complained about a provision, pushed heavily by industry lobbyists, that prevents it from excluding companies like Verizon and AT&T from the sale, even though both already own large amounts of spectrum. (Read more FCC stories.)

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