Spectrum Auction Delayed Again

In a setback for some broadcasters on the high end of the television dial, President Bush signed a bill delaying the June 19 auction of the lower 700 MHz spectrum (Channels 52 to 59). The bill, passed June 18 by the House and the Senate, allows - but does not require - the auction to go forward between Aug. 19 and Sept. 19. It also delays the auction of Channels 60 to 69, scheduled for January 2003.

The legislation is a victory for some wireless-industry interests, which hope for a more comprehensive plan for using the spectrum.

Paxson Communications Corp., the largest high-frequency occupant with 19 channels, had lobbied for a swift auction. Paxson and other members of the Spectrum Clearing Alliance hope to take advantage of an FCC ruling allowing them to strike deals with wireless companies to vacate the spectrum ahead of the date mandated by the digital transition, namely 2007 or when markets achieve 85-percent digital TV penetration. An early auction could have enabled the broadcasters to make billions of dollars and avoid some digital buildout deadlines.