Inventory Politics

The GOP platform this year called for a spectrum inventory, while Democrats mentioned finding more “wireless spectrum,” versus, I suppose, wired spectrum.

“We call for an inventory of federal agency spectrum to determine the surplus that could be auctioned for the taxpayers’ benefit,” the GOP platform states.

The DNC, on the other hand, says it’s “finding innovative ways to free up wireless spectrum.”

The irony about this is that key Democrats have pushed for a spectrum inventory for the last three years. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) first co-sponsored a spectrum inventory bill in 2009 (with GOP Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe). He reintroduced it in 2010 after the National Broadband Plan was delivered to Congress, which recommended the reallocation of 40 percent of the TV spectrum.

The bill was voted out of the Senate Commerce Committee that July, with both Kerry and Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) leaning on FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for an inventory. Genachowski assured them that one was underway from behind a big red velvet curtain where he pumped the bellows on a smoke machine.

In yet another classic Washington irony, Congress granted the FCC authority to hold TV spectrum incentive auctions in the absence of an inventory even after they’d threatened not to. Because they are so scary.

Another Democrat, Congressman John Dingell of Michigan, has been hammering away at Genachowski for the Allotment Optimization Model used to come up with the 40 percent solution. Those familiar with the process speculate that horse followed the cart in this particular instance—the 40-percent figure was established before calculating an AOM, which in turn is being shoehorned to accommodate the 40 percent.

However, because Congress said no TV station would be shoved unwillingly in a VHF assignment, it’s turning out that 40 percent might be a bit, shall we say… ridiculously unrealistic?