Bloomberg News

Supercommittee Members Urge Obama to Expand Airwaves Auctions

October 07, 2011

Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Four members of the congressional supercommittee charged with cutting the U.S. deficit urged President Barack Obama to expand a proposal to auction airwaves controlled by the federal government to raise revenue.

The lawmakers said reallocating some spectrum used by federal agencies may also help meet commercial demand for airwaves driven by increasing consumer adoption of smartphones and tablet computers, according to a letter to Obama.

The letter was signed by Representatives Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, and Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, and Senators John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Patrick Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican. The 12-member bipartisan supercommittee is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings by Nov. 23.

The Obama administration in February proposed freeing up 500 megahertz of government and commercial spectrum in the next decade, almost doubling the airwaves that would be available for wireless Internet use.

The Obama plan would draw on airwaves the administration considers underutilized. Revenue from auctioning spectrum voluntarily relinquished by television broadcasters and U.S. agencies would contribute to deficit reduction and help build an emergency communications network for public-safety workers.

The four supercommittee members said the voluntary auctions envisioned by the administration “will not produce all the spectrum we need to meet our country’s growing demand for broadband” and called on the White House to consider expanding its proposal to reallocate federal government airwaves. The lawmakers requested a response by Oct. 14.

Emergency Network

The Senate Commerce Committee in June approved a measure to set auctions of television airwaves. Under the bill, S.911, the U.S. would sell airwaves voluntarily surrendered by TV station owners, with proceeds going to pay for the emergency network and compensate station owners, with surplus funds going toward deficit reduction.

The Congressional Budget Office said in July that the measure, sponsored by Senators Jay Rockefeller and Kay Bailey Hutchison, would raise $6.5 billion toward deficit reduction, down from the lawmakers’ earlier estimate of $10 billion. Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, is chairman of the committee and Hutchison, of Texas, is the committee’s senior Republican member.

--Editors: Michael Shepard, Andrea Snyder

To contact the reporters on this story: Eric Engleman in Washington at; Juliann Francis in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at

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