White House brings back user fees for spectrum

President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2015 would enact a fee for using the country’s airwaves and sell off licenses for satellite communications, things the administration has been trying to enact for years.

Over the next decade, the proposals will raise about $4.8 billion, the White House said.

Airwaves on the country’s spectrum are worth billions to wireless companies, which have been struggling to provide enough bandwidth for the rapid growth of people streaming video and downloading content to their phones and tablets.

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The government is already slated to make billions by facilitating upcoming auctions of the spectrum, but the administration’s plan would add to that by charging a fee for licenses on waves of the spectrum that are not sold via auction.

The proposal is nothing new. The administration has proposed a similar fee in previous budgets, but it has never been adopted by Congress.

The National Association of Broadcasters has opposed the provision in past years’ budgets and told The Hill it would do the same this year.

Obama’s budget proposal would also let the FCC auction off licenses for “predominantly domestic” satellite TV and radio services to use the country’s airwaves. A 2005 court order prevented the FCC from holding auctions for licenses of satellite-based services. 

The FCC is scheduled to hold auctions to sell off parts of the spectrum. Next year, it’s planning an “incentive auction,” in which radio and TV broadcast companies will sell spectrum to the FCC, which will go around and sell it for mobile broadband.