Obama proposes spectrum license fee

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Buried in U.S. President Barack Obama's budget blueprint for 2009 is a new-but-undefined spectrum license user fee that would increase from US$50 million in 2009 to $550 million four years later.

The budget blueprint, released Thursday, provides no more details about the fee. Despite some speculation to the contrary, it may not, however, be a fee on wireless voice and data spectrum, but on spectrum used by U.S. radio and television stations.

The proposed spectrum license user fee, which would be $200 million in 2010 and $300 million in 2011, takes up one line on page 126 of the 142-page budget blueprint.

A similar fee, proposed but not enacted in past federal budgets, has not been for wireless spectrum that companies have purchased in auctions from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, but on TV and radio spectrum that's been allocated to broadcasters, said a government source familiar with past FCC budgets.

The White House press office didn't immediately return a phone call seeking clarification on the proposed fee, which would bring in nearly $4.8 billion over 10 years.

Representatives of Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, contacted about the proposed fee, declined to comment. The CTIA, a trade group representing wireless carriers, said in a statement it was "currently reviewing the details of the proposal and look[ing] forward to participating in the next stages of this issue."

The National Association of Broadcasters is "unclear" about the impact of the proposal on broadcasters, said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president at the trade group. Similar fees have been proposed but rejected for about 15 years, Wharton said.

The spectrum fee is one of several proposed in the Obama budget overview. The budget would reinstate environmental superfund taxes at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, repeal some oil and gas company tax breaks, and raise taxes on married couples earning more than $250,000 a year and individuals earning more than $200,000 a year.

The Obama budget, which will likely be changed as it moves through the U.S. Congress, also reduces agriculture payments to some high-income farmers, authorizes the FCC to auction domestic satellite spectrum and raises Department of Agriculture inspection fees.

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