McCain/Lieberman Spectrum Bill Introduced

Does not appear to compensate broadcasters; source says that is because it does not call for auctioning broadcast spectrum

Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have introduced their own version of a D block allocation bill, the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011, but it does not appear to compensate broadcasters.

McCain pushed broadcasters in the run-up to the DTV transition to hurry up and move off their spectrum so first responders could get access to it. 

But now the FCC wants to get more broadcast spectrum, this time for wireless broadband, compensating broadcasters for making the move, so long as Congress gives it that incentive auction authority.

There is already a Senate bill, introduced by Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to allocate the D block and support it with money from spectrum auctions, money that would also go to pay broadcasters for voluntarily giving up their spectrum.

It was unclear at first read whether the Lieberman/McCain bill would pay broadcasters or just provide for paying for the network and paying down the deficit with proceeds from spectrum auctions. A spokesperson for McCain was checking on that point at press time, and a Lieberman spokesperson was not available for comment.

But a source familiar with the bill said that it does not pay broadcasters because the spectrum it calls for auctioning to fund the network is not broadcast spectrum, but from other swaths of the band.

The bill talks about using the auction proceeds for the network--$5.5 billion to build, $5.5 billion to maintain, and the rest for deficit reduction, which would appear to leave none for broadcasters. "This money would come from revenues generated by the auction of different bands of spectrum to commercial carriers," said the senators' offices in a statement. "Any auction revenues in excess of $11 billion would go to deficit reduction.

"NAB is reviewing the legislation," said a spokesperson.

The bill will likely be referred to the Homeland Security Committee, which Lieberman still chairs despite backing the Republican presidential nominee last time around--John McCain. Competing bills could make it tougher to pass either.