According to sources, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) is
expected to reintroduce a bill as early as today that would authorize incentive
auctions to repay broadcasters who voluntarily give up spectrum for wireless
The bill would make it clear that the reclamation needs to
be truly voluntary.
If it were reintroduced, it would come the same day that the
FCC voted to create a technical framework for an interoperable public safety
network. Rockefeller's bill would pay for that network out of proceeds from the
spectrum auctions, as well as give spectrum to public safety for that purpose.
There has been some disagreement in Congress and in the
public safety community over whether the government should give the so-called D
block of spectrum to first responders or auction it and try to create a
public-private partnership that would create a commercial network that first
responders could use whenever they needed it.
The Coalition for 4G in America, which includes
Clearwire, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile, want the FCC to auction that spectrum.
The D block is the spectrum the FCC tried to auction in 2007
to create that public-private partnership to build a national, interoperable
public safety network. It failed to draw the FCC's minimum bid. The FCC has
made re-auctioning that spectrum, which 4G supports, part of its national
broadband plan. It would not mandate a public-private partnership, but would
require the winning bidder to make that 10 MHz of spectrum available for public
safety in an emergency.
Rockefeller's bill would put the spectrum directly in the
hands of public safety, allocating the 10 MHz of spectrum for use by first
responders, who could lease the spectrum to commercial users on a pre-emptive
basis. Rockefeller would fund operation of that network with proceeds from the
planned auction of broadcast spectrum reclaimed for wireless broadband.
There were a number of incentive auction bills introduced in
the last Congress, including a Senate bill introduced by Senate Communications
Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and senior Commerce Committee member
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) that would levy a spectrum fee on the
broadcasters who don't give up spectrum. Broadcasters argue that would not be
voluntary, and the Rockefeller bill has no spectrum fees.
A broadcast industry source said the re-introduced bill is
essentially the same as the one introduced in the last Congress, with a few
tweaks, but still to broadcasters' liking. A Rockefeller spokesperson was not
available for comment at press time.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has been stumping for
swift congressional action on a bill to authorize paying broadcasters out of
the treasury. The FCC has the authority to move broadcasters without paying
them, but broadcasters would not go without a fight and the chairman has
repeatedly indicated the incentive auction is the way to make more room for
more spectrum by giving broadcasters the incentive to give up spectrum real estate.