Apart from the standalone legislation, House and Senate lawmakers had been working toward an agreement to include spectrum provisions in either a year-end spending bill or legislation to extend cuts to the payroll tax, but those talks broke down in December. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-W.V.), a leading advocate for spectrum reform, blamed House Republicans, whom he said had "unilaterally stopped negotiating with us on spectrum." Three days later, when lawmakers reached a deal to keep the government funded, Rockefeller again expressed disappointment that spectrum was not a part of the package, but signaled that he would make a spectrum bill a top priority in 2012.
"Although we didn't get this done within today's agreement, I intend to push hard in the coming weeks to work out a suitable compromise with the House," he said in a statement at the time. "Build-out of a public safety communications network is in our national interest. We cannot afford further inaction."
Meanwhile, wireless players have been moving on their own to beef up their spectrum holdings. Verizon, for instance, recently announced a $3.6 billion deal to purchase chunks of spectrum from cable heavyweights Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks in a complex arrangement that would include a marketing alliance among the participants. That alliance among entrenched rivals has raised eyebrows among regulators and consumer advocates, and the Justice Department is already probing the deal. Two weeks after unveiling the proposed cable partnership, Verizon announced plans to purchase a series of spectrum licenses from Cox Communications for $315 million.
Then there is AT&T, fresh off of its failed attempt to acquire T-Mobile. After regulators scuttled that deal, the nation's second-largest wireless provider can be expected to turn to other sources to pad its own stock of spectrum. Analysts with Stifel Nicolaus speculated that the "moderately desperate" AT&T could next turn to satellite provider Dish Network, either in an outright acquisition bid or a more limited deal to purchase spectrum. They also noted that with the T-Mobile deal off the table, AT&T is likely to press lawmakers even harder to enact legislation authorizing new spectrum auctions.
2. Piracy - SOPA and Protect IP Act Take Center Stage
Perhaps the most controversial issue set to take the stage early in 2012, efforts to crack down on websites that trade in the flow of pirated content will again be the subject of heated debate.