Walden Sets Personal End-of-Year Goal for Spectrum Bill

Whether to auction the D-block or simply allocate it to first responders remains a key dividing issue
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Negotiations continue on an incentive auction bill in the House Energy & Commerce Committee, but an expected bill markup has not yet materialized.

In a statement Tuesday, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Communications Subcommittee suggested the goal was to "advance legislation" by the end of the year.

"For five months, we have been negotiating in earnest to find common ground on spectrum reform," he said. "I appreciate the progress we are making, and we will continue working in good faith to develop legislation that creates jobs, establishes a public safety network, and reduces the deficit. Members on both sides of the aisle are committed to getting the policy right, which is why we continue to avoid any arbitrary deadlines for action. However, I have set a personal goal to advance legislation by the end of this year, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to achieve that goal with the strongest, most effective bill we can produce."

A committee source speaking on background said that Walden and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the subcommittee, had met Tuesday for the ninth time, but for the first time with Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the full committee, also a part of the discussions.

The incentive auctions would compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum for auction to wireless broadband companies, with the proceeds also going to build an interoperable broadband emergency communications network, one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. A Senate version of the bill was added to the President's jobs bill, but that package has stalled or fallen apart so it is an unlikely vehicle for swift passage of incentive auction legislation.

One key issue dividing the bill generally along political lines has been whether to auction the so-called D-block spectrum for an emergency broadband network and let the marketplace take the lead in creating and sharing the emergency network with public safety officials, or simply allocate it to first responders. Walden and many Republicans favor the former, while many Democrats -- and some Republicans -- favor the latter.

Currently the law requires the spectrum to be auctioned. The FCC tried to auction the D block but failed to draw a minimum bid. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said he favored auctioning it but would support whatever gets the first responder network built and paid for most expeditiously.

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