According to the House version of a spectrum inventory bill introduced Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission would be required to identify the least-utilized blocks of spectrum in every market in the country, then recommend which, if any, should be reallocated.
It would also require annual reports to that effect, though it would also put the onus on the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, rather than the spectrum users to gather the information where possible.
The House bill was introduced by Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Communications Subcommittee chairman Henry Boucher (D-Va.) along with 16 co-sponsors.
Boucher made it clear that the bill was about getting more users in the band and taking some back where it was being underused. "Our legislation would enable better use of spectrum frequencies, including through sharing and reallocation," he said. "It is forward- looking legislation that would encourage innovation and competitiveness."
One of the goals, said Boucher, who represents a mostly rural district, is to open up the spectrum band to more wireless broadband in rural areas, identifying what they call "gaps in spectrum use and inefficient spectrum allocations."
But for broadcasters, the devil could be in the details of what the government identifies as falling into those categories. A government official's gap could be a broadcaster's separation from interference to those beautiful new digital pictures.
The House bill differs in a number of respects from the Senate version of the bill, which passed the Commerce Committee Wednesday with only one minor change.
The House bill asks for more information and more detailed information on who is using the spectrum, which includes radio and TV broadcasters, and how efficiently they are doing it. Wireless and computer companies have long argued that there is space between broadcast channels for a lot more users, while broadcasters are concerned about the interference that could result. The FCC last year agreed to allow unlicensed wireless devices to share the broadcast band.
The Senate bill may be modified before a floor vote to include more information on how the spectrum is being used after Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) talked with bill sponsor and Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) about doing so.
The House bill requires more information, and unlike the Senate bill, it also stipulates that the FCC and NTIA, which is the "FCC" for government spectrum users, first use their own resources --databases, field testing-- to obtain the information and only go to the industry or government users for the information if they can't get it themselves.
While the Senate version talks of a single report, the House version requires annual reports, including on what least-utilized blocks should be reallocated.
Both would give the FCC 180 days to produce the report -- the first in the case of the House version --and would also require the FCC and NTIA to create and maintain a Web portal to make the inventory available to the public.
NAB is reviewing the bills but had no comment on either.