Washington

Boucher, Stearns Introduce Voluntary Spectrum Auction Bill

Gives broadcasters option to say "no thanks" to government offer 7/29/2010 01:51:11 PM Eastern

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) wants to put a capital (and
"Capitol") V in "voluntary" when it comes to spectrum incentive
auctions.

Boucher, chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee, has teamed
with ranking member Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) to introduce a bill that would make
sure that if the government reclaims broadcasters' spectrum for auction and
re-use for wireless broadband, it can only do so from broadcasters who give it
up voluntarily, and not ones who are coerced either directly or indirectly.

Boucher has long championed only auctions that give broadcasters
the legitimate option of saying "no thanks" to the government's
offer, while acknowledging he believes there is a spectrum crisis that a truly
voluntary process might help alleviate.

Bills have already been introduced that would allow for incentive
auctions--Congress has to authorize the FCC to share proceeds with
broadcasters. But this is the first to put protecting broadcasters' options
front and center.

The Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act of 2010 would allow the FCC
to conduct the auction and determine what cut broadcasters would get of
the proceeds, but would prohibit it "from reclaiming the licenses of
broadcast television licensees or any other licensees directly or indirectly on
an involuntary basis for the purpose of conducting an incentive auction."

The three-page bill does not spell out what indirect means are
prohibited. Broadcasters are concerned that current incentive auction
legislation proposed by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe
(R-Me.)
would also levy a spectrum fee on broadcasters who retain their
spectrum.

Broadcasters argue that would be a thumb on the scale for clearing
broadcasters from the band.

The National Association of Broadcasters praised the bill.
"NAB salutes Chairman Boucher and
Ranking Member Stearns for their vision on an issue of vital importance
to tens of millions of Americans who rely on local TV stations for
high-quality entertainment, niche programming and
lifeline emergency news and information," said NAB spokesman Dennis
Wharton in a statement. "[W]e have no quarrel with incentive auctions
that are truly voluntary, and the Boucher/Stearns bill is a clear step
in the right direction."
 

Another step would be getting rid of
spectrum fees in any auction bill, which Wharton said the NAB has made
clear it has problems with.

"We're
pleased to see consensus growing across government for the voluntary
incentive auctions outlined in the National Broadband Plan," said FCC
spokeswoman
Jen Howard. "This pro-investment spectrum strategy will spur economic
growth, create jobs, and promote U.S. global leadership in mobile."

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