Clinton may charge broadcasters for use of airwaves and auction broadcast licenses
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Clinton administration has proposed raising $4.8 billion over five years by charging broadcasters and others for their use of the radio spectrum, either through license auctions or user fees. While the government currently auctions radio spectrum for many commercial services, mass media broadcasters have not been subject to either type of fee.
Licensed radio and TV stations traditionally have been allowed to use the airwaves for free because they agree to broadcast “in the public interest,” providing news, public-service announcements and discounted political advertising.
Last year, the National Association of Broadcasters succeeded in fighting off administration attempts to impose a spectrum fee to help offset lost revenue under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
White House budget officials this year considered but rejected proposing phased-in payments, based on revenues, from companies that currently use the radio spectrum without charge, such as cellular-phone companies and television stations, an administration official told The Wall Street Journal. Instead, Congress will be asked to allow the Federal Communications Commission to raise $4.8 billion over five years in other ways, including auctioning broadcast airwaves as the government does for other wireless communication services.
“The administration would be making a grievous mistake in changing 70 years of communication policy,” NAB President Eddie Fritts told Broadcasting & Cable.
FCC Chairman Reed Hundt has suggested that broadcasters be required to pay for their licenses through fees or auctions if they fail to devote more time to children’s and news programming.