House Communications Subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher
(D-Va.) took the opportunity of a public sidebar discussion on the House floor
with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to make it clear he doesn't want any part
of the FCC's broadband plan to include forcing broadcasters off their spectrum.
He also doesn't want the commission proceeding with its
voluntary spectrum-reclamation plan before it has identified where the spectrum
is available and from whom it should come, and reported that information to
Congress, a process that could take several years.
Although the House failed to pass a spectrum inventory bill
(HR 3125) via unanimous consent Wednesday (Apr. 14), after a Republican member
made it less than unanimous, Boucher still got to make his point, which came
even as broadcasters are pondering their spectrum fate at the National
Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.
"It would not be an appropriate step to require that
broadcasters engage in the surrender of any part of the spectrum they hold,"
Boucher said on the House floor.
Blackburn asked Boucher his views on
how the FCC should proceed on its recommendations in the national broadband
plan, which include an order by next year on reclaiming 120 Megahertz of
spectrum from broadcasters via voluntary auctions, in light of the spectrum
bill, which anticipates a several-year-long process in first identifying what
spectrum may be available.
"There is not doubt that more spectrum is needed in order to
meet the nation's rising demand for wireless services," said Boucher," but he
also said that "conducting the spectrum inventory that this legislation
requires is an essential first step," and a "clear roadmap."
Blackburn said she heartily agreed.
As to the spectrum being sought from broadcasters in particular,
she pointed to the plans assertion of a voluntary program but said that it "hints
that other, presumably involuntary methods, of relocating broadcast stations
may be necessary." She asked him whether he supported such involuntary methods.
Boucher was happy to oblige: "I agree that the right
approach is to work with television broadcasters to identify the spectrum they
now hold that, on a purely consensual basis, could be repurposed wireless use."
Boucher is not suggesting new spectrum is not needed. He has
repeatedly acknowledged the need and desirability of freeing up spectrum for
wireless broadband use, including from broadcasters if it is freely given, and
did so again Wednesday.
But he used the House floor time to reiterate that it must
be voluntary, period. "Broadcasters who surrender spectrum would receive
compensation for a voluntary spectrum transfer. I would not support the
commission's requiring stations to give up spectrum involuntarily."
Congress will have to approve the FCC's reclamation
plan, since it involves auctions where some of the proceeds would go to
industry, rather than the government.