President George W. Bush’s 2007 budget proposal released yesterday includes authorizing the FCC to collect user fees on licensed spectrum not obtained via an auction.

“To promote efficient spectrum use, the Administration supports granting FCC authority to set user fees on unauctioned spectrum licenses based on public-interest and spectrum-management principles,” the budget proposal states. “User fees will help to ensure that spectrum is put to its highest and best use, by internalizing the value of spectrum to license holders ... Fee collections are estimated to begin in 2007 and total $3.6 billion in the first 10 years.”

Exactly what the proposal means is unclear at this time. Television and radio broadcasters’ lobbying efforts have thwarted previous attempts to assess user fees on their unauctioned spectrum, but another attempt to establish such fees would not be surprising. Airwaves used by public-safety entities and the military are not auctioned, but most Beltway sources doubt that the Bush administration wants to assess a spectrum user fee on other governmental entities.

Some media reports technology proponents expressed concern that the fees would target users of unlicensed spectrum, such as the frequencies used in Wi-Fi networks. However, the wording included in the Bush budget proposal specifically mentions “unauctioned spectrum licenses,” which would seem to preclude unlicensed bands.

Separately, the Bush budget document expresses support for the budget-reconciliation legislation that establishes February 17, 2009, as the firm transition date for TV broadcasters to stop transmitting analog signals at 700 MHz, clearing the band for public-safety and commercial wireless operators. The budget proposal also calls for Congress to pass legislation permanently authorizing the FCC to auction spectrum.