Spectrum auctions delayed by Congress until February

The U.S. Senate has removed a broadcast spectrum auction provision out of end-of-the-year economic legislation, delaying it until at least next February.

The spectrum section was taken out of the legislation in hopes that the two bodies, each controlled by a different party, could find a compromise in what was considered must-pass legislation.

Both parties support broadcast spectrum auctions. However, the Republicans and Democrats each have different ways to achieve the same result and have not been able to agree on alternative versions of the legislation.

Republicans would pay broadcasters money more for moving them from current channels, but want to limit the FCC conditions that the commission can place on winners and how the auctions are run. The Democrats see that as trying to limit "net neutrality" rules and interfering with the ability of the FCC to run the auctions. The failure of the parties to agree will probably be carried over to February when the battle begins again.

The delay also impacts the building of an emergency communications network, which would be funded by the broadcast spectrum auctions. "I'm deeply disappointed that measures to create a first responder communications network were not included in the larger year-end package," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) in a statement.

Rockefeller is a major advocate of the auctions in order to pay for a broadband emergency communications network. He had originally let the goal of passing it before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 last September.

"Our police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel across America need to be able to rely on a nationwide, interoperable communications network when the unimaginable happens," he said. "I intend to push hard in the coming weeks to work out a suitable compromise with the House. Build out of a public safety communications network is in our national interest. We cannot afford further inaction."