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Harry Reid’s Debt Ceiling Plan: Auction Off Spectrum

The Senate Majority Leader says selling rights could generate $15 billion

Harry Reid has a plan to fix the United States' rapidly expanding deficit — sell off access to its airwaves. 

The Senate Majority Leader's proposal to auction off spectrum has left the television industry's lobbying arm, the National Assn. of Broadcasters, sounding the alarm. 

Reid estimates that the government can raise $15 billion by selling rights to the airwaves and by persuading television networks to put their spectrum claims on the market as well. The NAB claims that such an auction could limit television access in certain communities. 

“NAB is deeply concerned about provisions currently in Senate Majority Leader Reid's legislation that would threaten the future of a great American institution — free and local television,” NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said in a statement. “We will work with him as the process moves forward in hopes that our issues can be addressed."

Another element that seemed to rile the NAB was that Reid's proposal does not require the government to pay broadcasters for surrendering their unused spectrum for auction. Other proposals winding their way through Congress had required some form of compensation.

A spokesman for Reid did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One group that did seem to like Reid’s plan to make a little extra cash was the Federal Communications Commission. The commission was particuarly pleased that Reid’s legislation will give it the authority to oversee a potential spectrum sale.

FCC Chief Julius Genachowski has been pushing for Congress to give the commission that kind of power, so it can free up space to meet the broadband demands of emerging technologies such as tablets and smart phones. Genachowski has warned that if spectrum is not freed up it could lead to a crunch.

“We look forward to working with Congress to enable us to use this important tool, which will generate billions of dollars for deficit reduction, unleash much-needed spectrum for wireless broadband, drive innovation, create jobs and strengthen free, over-the-air broadcasting,” Neil Grace, a spokesman for the FCC, told TheWrap.

Of course, it's all dependent on Congress reaching some kind of agreement before the country plunges into default.