Boucher Targets Spectrum Sales

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Washington — Rep. Rick
Boucher (D-Va.) wants to put
a capital (and “Capitol”) V in
“voluntary” when it comes to
spectrum-incentive auctions.

Boucher, chairman of the
House Communications Subcommittee,
has teamed with
ranking member Rep. Cliff Stearns
(R-Fla.) to introduce a bill
that would ensure that if the government
reclaims broadcasters’
spectrum for auction and re-use
for wireless broadband, it can
only do so from broadcasters
who give it up voluntarily, and
not ones who are coerced, either
directly or indirectly.

Boucher has long championed
auctions that give broadcasters
the legitimate option
of saying “no thanks” to the
government’s offer, while acknowledging
he believes there
is a spectrum crisis that a truly
voluntary process might help
alleviate.

A bill has already been introduced
that would allow for
incentive auctions: Congress
must authorize the Federal
Communications Commission
to share proceeds with broadcasters.
This is the first bill to
put protecting broadcasters’
options front and center.

The Voluntary Incentive Auctions
Act of 2010 would allow
the FCC to conduct the auction
and determine the cut that
broadcasters would get of the
proceeds, but would prohibit
the agency from “reclaiming
the licenses of broadcast television
licensees or any other
licensees directly or indirectly
on an involuntary basis for the
purpose of conducting an incentive
auction.”

The three-page bill does not
spell out what indirect means
are prohibited. Broadcasters
are concerned that current incentive
auction legislation proposed
by Senators John Kerry
(D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe
(R-Maine) would also levy a
spectrum fee on broadcasters
who retain their spectrum.

Broadcasters argue that
would be a thumb on the scale
for clearing broadcasters from
the band.

The National Association of
Broadcasters praised the voluntary
auction bill. “[W]e have
no quarrel with incentive auctions
that are truly voluntary,
and the Boucher-Stearns bill is
a clear step in the right direction,”
it said.

NAB also would like to see
spectrum fees eliminated from
any auction bill.

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