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Gore, Minow, Markey and Kerrey eye proceeds from spectrum auctions

Originally published in Current, Dec. 12, 1994

On the occasion of the FCC's big spectrum auction for future pocket-phone services, Democratic policymakers are reviving proposals to allocate some of the proceeds to children's TV program production and/or the wiring of classrooms for interactive media.

At the opening of the auction for Personal Communications Services (PCS) licenses Dec. 5 [1994], Vice President Al Gore suggested that Congress earmark some of the expected windfall to wire schools, hospitals and libraries into the multimedia infohighway.

The auction of 99 PCS licenses in 51 markets, now underway, will bring in $10 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimated, and Administration sources put the number at $15 billion, the Washington Post reported.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), also speaking at the FCC ceremony, suggested spending some of the auction proceeds on children's programming for public TV.

''I anticipate that there will be tremendous pressure over the next two years to cut funding for public broadcasting, and to scrap children's television rules,'' said Markey. ''I believe we should look at making up those cuts with some of the revenues generated by these auctions.'' The congressman is serving out his last month as chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee.

The same idea got a high-profile showcase the day before in an article by Newton Minow, the former FCC and PBS chairman, and Craig L. LaMay, published in the New York Times Magazine.

Minow and LaMay argued that using the auction proceeds to reduce the federal deficit--as Congress expects to do--would last only 44 hours. It would end up being ''spent in the service of who knows what,'' as was the bequest that a patriotic millionaire left to the U.S. Treasury a few years ago.

The FCC's auction ''is an open opportunity to do something creative'' that would ''last more than a few days,'' Minow and LaMay proposed. Their two suggestions are to finance high-quality educational programs for children and to connect schools to the information highway.

To aid programming, Congress would only have to put money into the Commerce Department's already-existing National Endowment for Children's Educational Television (NECET), they said.

The Minow-LaMay article is based on part of their forthcoming book, Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television and the First Amendment.

Minow's Annenberg Washington Program last week released a position paper by regulatory reform advocate Henry Geller, who suggests giving a portion of the PCS auction proceeds to the PBS Ready to Learn Channel, NECT or CPB for production of children's programming.

Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) also spoke up for directing the proceeds to wiring of the schools, in a letter to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt on Dec. 5. Staffers said Kerrey had been pushing the idea with Hundt for some time.


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