Senator Mark Warner's spectrum bill: Can the leopard shed his spots?

Cited Article

Josh Smith, Warner Introduces Bill To Authorize Spectrum Auctions, National Journal, February 18, 2011.

My Comment
Nice rhetoric from Senator Mark Warner, but the devil will be in the details.  If Warner is true to his word, then, like St. Augustine, he will be a reformed sinner.

Few people know that Senator Mark Warner made his fortune in the 1980s from spectrum windfalls at taxpayers’ expense.  In the 1980s, Congress gave away billions of dollars worth of spectrum licenses by lottery.  It was the largest lottery in the history of universe and Warner, one of the major players, figured out a way a walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public assets.  As a lawyer putting together deals and purchasing countless spectrum lottery tickets on behalf of wealthy speculators, such as dentists and doctors,  who knew relatively little about spectrum but could recognize a government windfall when they saw one, he took a cut of winning lottery tickets.  And win he did.  It was all perfectly legal, just like all the special interest perks that Congress dishes out every year.

Warner then took his taxpayer financed windfall to finance a political career, which eventually led him to the U.S. Senate.

So sure, Warner has the spectrum smarts to ensure that the public isn’t once more played for the sucker.  But if I had to bet, I’d put my money on Warner playing the public for a sucker again.  Sure, the public will probably get some billions out of this.  And sure, the spectrum is now so grossly underutilized that just about any other use would be a big improvement.  But the big money will go to the broadcasters: the Disneys, Viacoms, News Corporations, and Comcasts.

Who will tell the people?  Certainly not the broadcasters.

But unfortunately, it’s also not clear that the people really care.  That’s why, assuming Warner believes his own rhetoric, he probably cannot deliver on it.

–J.H. Snider, author of SpectrumBS.info and “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick: How Local TV Broadcasters Exert Political Power.”

Related Articles

Sara Jerome, Warner introduces incentive auction bill, The Hill, February 18, 2011.

John Eggerton, Warner Bill Would Cap Broadcaster Spectrum Compensation: Introduced an incentive auction bill to free up wireless spectrum, Broadcasting & Cable, February 18, 2011

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