The FCC may not be up for major reform, but if a couple of powerful senators have their way, the spectrum it and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration manages will be, with an eye toward making sure it is not unnecessarily denied to "innovators."
That is the sort of talk that can make incumbents like TV and radio broadcasters nervous.
A Kerry spokesperson said that the bill was not an effort to pave the way for taking broadcasters' spectrum. "That is not the intent of the legislation. We are simply trying to get a clear sense of how the spectrum is currently being used," she said.
Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has teamed with Republican member Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to introduce a bill requiring a "thorough inventory" of the current uses of the radio spectrum (300 Megahertz to 3.5 Gigahertz, which includes radio and TV uses.
More efficient use of spectrum has long been a government goal, and was an avowed priority of former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.
The bill, The Radio Spectrum Inventory Act, would require both agencies to report within 180 days with a report on how that spectrum is being managed and for what uses.
"Our public airwaves belong to the American people, and we need to make certain we are putting them to good use in the best interests of those citizens," said Kerry in a statement. "Last year's 700 MHz auction resulted in $20 billion for the treasury and will create greater opportunity and choice for consumers and businesses that need broadband service. We also took a great step forward when the FCC established a way for unlicensed devices to operate in white spaces. These two initiatives are evidence of how valuable spectrum is and how it serves as fertile grounds for innovation. We need to make sure we're making as much of it available to innovators and consumers as possible."
Snowe said the bill would be the first step toward "comprehensive spectrum reform." The information NTIA and the FCC would have to come up with would include "information on the licenses or government user operating in each band and the total spectrum allocation of each licensee or government user." Is like the FCC for government spectrum users.
If the bill passed, the FCC would have a busy year as it oversees the DTV transition, tries to roll three annual video competition reports into one, installs a new chairman, and comes up with the congressionally mandated grand plan for rolling out broadband service to everyone in the country.