Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.) says he wants to get an
incentive auction/emergency communications network bill passed by June, and
certainly before the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. But he also says
broadcasters will not be forced of spectrum in the process.
The bill would pay for the creation, care and maintenance of
a national, interoperable broadband emergency communications system with
proceeds from an auction of spectrum, including broadcast spectrum. Congress
has to give the FCC authority to compensate broadcasters and others--Rockefeller
mentioned pager companies, for one--for moving off and freeing up that
Broadcasters certainly want to be compensated if they give
up spectrum, but the National Association of Broadcasters is concerned that the
FCC's idea of voluntary is not theirs.
In a meeting with reporters to put an exclamation point on
his ongoing calls for passage of the bill, Rockefeller was asked what support
he had from broadcasters.
"I have had good talks with [NAB
President and former senate colleague] Gordon Smith about it," he said.
"The word voluntary is very, very important to him." Language that
says the spectrum reclamation must be voluntary is part of the Rockefeller
bill. "Some broadcasters [will say] 'The government's going to move in and
the FCC is going to move in and they are going to take away our spectrum.
That's not going to happen."
He said it will have to be voluntarily offered to the
FCC. He added that: "Gordon Smith relaxes when he hears the word
voluntary," says Rockefeller.
Smith is unlikely to relax entirely until he has assurances
from the FCC that the broadcasters who don't opt for auctions are also held
harmless, which is part of the "voluntary" definition on which NAB
and the FCC disagree. Broadcasters argue that moving or repacking remaining
stations isn't voluntary, while FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said such
moves, which the FCC says it will need to make to free up contiguous 20 mHz
blocks of spectrum for wireless broadband, are part of the FCC's existing
Rockefeller said he has assurances from the FCC that it is
100% behind allocating spectrum for the public safety network rather than
auctioning it for a public-private partnership, as was the FCC's initial
proposal in the National Broadband Plan. The FCC tried once before to auction
the spectrum, as directed by Congress but failed to draw a minimum bid. Some
argued that is because of the build-out and other requirements it put on the
Dick Mirgon, former president of the Association of Public
Safety Communications Officials, who was also on the call, said that public
safety "cannot rely on commercial networks for our broadband. We need our
own secure network," he said.
"To me it's disgraceful and embarrassing and costly to
our country that, since September 11,
2001, we have done nothing to change the way that our public safety
officials can communicate with each other... on a nationwide basis. The 9/11
Commission specifically tasked the Congress with doing this and the Congress
has not done this," he said.