February 19, 2012


Congress to Sell Public Airwaves to Pay Benefits (EDWARD WYATT and JENNIFER STEINHAUER, 2/17/12, NY Times)

The need for revenue to partly cover the extension of the payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits has pushed Congress to embrace a generational shift in the country's media landscape: the auction of public airwaves now used for television broadcasts to create more wireless Internet systems.

If a compromise bill completed Thursday by Congress is approved as expected by this weekend, the result will eventually be faster connections for smartphones, iPads and other data-hungry mobile devices. Their explosive popularity has overwhelmed the ability, particularly in big cities, for systems to quickly download maps, video games and movies. [...]

The spectrum auctions are at least one to two years away, but most of the programs they pay for would be covered immediately. Consumers are unlikely to see additional charges since the auction would add new spectrum rather than adding to the costs of existing spectrum.

The payroll tax exemption would be extended through the end of this year, providing a worker earning $50,000 annually with $1,000 more in take-home pay over that time. The bill would also prevent a reimbursement cut for doctors who accept Medicare.

The legislation is the result of an unusual degree of cooperation between two parties that have fought bitterly over recent issues, and members of the conference committee that negotiated the deal played to the cameras on Thursday. One by one, members filed into the office of the committee's chairman, Representative Dave Camp, Republican from Michigan, to sign the papers splayed out neatly on a large table that rested under an ornate chandelier.

Mr. Camp and his chief negotiating partner, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, linked hands for the cameras, as Mr. Baucus said helpfully for anyone who did not get the visual cue: "Working together!"

Posted by at February 19, 2012 8:53 AM

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