Boucher: FCC Should Not Force Broadcasters to Give Up Spectrum

House Comm. chairman says FCC plan to get spectrum back voluntarily is right track

The FCC should not force broadcasters off their spectrum
now, or ever, according to House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick
Boucher (D-Va.).

"Spectrum should not be taken away from
broadcasters," Boucher told a roomful of broadcasters at the National
Association of Broadcasters' annual Washington
get-together, drawing strong applause.

Boucher went further. He said he supported the FCC's
announced plan to try to get spectrum back voluntarily, saying it was "now
on the right track. There would be no decision forced upon you," he said.
"You would simply have an option you don't have now and that is to sell
some of the spectrum to the government, which would then auction it for other

He even suggested he had helped put them on that track. "I
had discussions at the commission [he said later that was at the staff level]
that the forced approach was wrong and that the voluntary compensation approach
was right."

But he said even that effort should not come before the FCC
has conducted a through spectrum review to find out the best place to get it.
Boucher has co-sponsored a spectrum inventory bill, which has passed the
subcommittee. He predicted it could be marked up by the full committee as early
as next week.

"We are clearly going to need new spectrum in the near
future," he said, "but the right first step is not to take spectrum
from any particular source but to identify where spectrum is currently
underutilized so that we have a blueprint for moving forward."

Boucher said he was as convinced as any that more spectrum
was needed for all those wireless mobile applications, but he also said
spectrum was needed to provide the HD pictures viewers were promised during a
DTV transition that they helped pay for.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined the FCC's voluntary
proposal in a speech last week, but the FCC's broadband team has also indicated
that a voluntary approach might have to be revisited if not enough broadcasters
ponied up.

Boucher also said that whatever the FCC does, it should
leave the remaining broadcasters with sufficient spectrum for an HD signal.

"I don't think it should be mandatory," Boucher
said to reporters after his speech to the group. "The digital transition
proceeded with millions of Americans buying set-top boxes on the assumption
that there would be television service provided over-the-air in high definition
for those who wanted to receive it that way. It simply would not be possible to
fulfill that expectation if television broadcasters had spectrum taken from
them to the point that their HD got scrunched down to a standard definition

Boucher said he would have a series of hearings on the plan
once it was released, and said broadcasters would definitely be included.