Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, and Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-Me) have introduced a bill that would authorize incentive auctions and require the FCC and NTIA to conduct a spectrum inventory. It would allow the FCC to determine how much to compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum, but would also try to prevent speculation in those licenses.
The legislators said Wednesday that special interests should not be driving spectrum policy. That could include broadcasters trying to protect their turf, or wireless companies trying to expand their spectrum holdings, or arguably even the FCC, whose special interest is in getting broadband deployed as swiftly and elegantly as possible.
An inventory and incentive auctions are two things broadcasters have been pushing for, including in meetings on Capitol Hill this week as part of an annual lobbying fly-in.
Congress has to give the FCC permission to conduct incentive auctions, which would compensate broadcasters for moving off their spectrum and could raise funds for an interoperable emergency communications network. That network and funding have been proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), chairman of the full Commerce Subcommittee.
Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), who in another life co-founded Nextel, has also introduced an incentive auction bill to free up wireless spectrum. The bill authorizes payments to broadcasters who voluntarily give up spectrum, but also directs the FCC to "establish a maximum revenue sharing threshold applicable to all licensees within any auction." There is a caveat that the threshold could be upped if, as a result, the government got more money or more spectrum.
Kerry and Snowe outlined their comprehensive spectrum reform bill (the "Reforming Airwaves by Developing Incentives and Opportunistic Sharing Act" or the RADIOS Act) in a letter to Rockefeller and ranking committee member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), saying it dovetailed with that emergency communications network effort.
Broadcasters have argued the FCC should have first inventoried the spectrum it had before concluding that it needed to reclaim 120 Mhz more from broadcasters. Kerry and Snowe said in the letter that the bill would be supplemental to that legislation. It would, among other things, require the FCC and the NTIA (which oversees government spectrum use)determine actual use and occupancy rate to provide a relative value to the public of various uses and users.
Broadcasters have also argued that their public interest value as a vital source of news and emergency info should be part of any such equation.
"Our legislative proposal is rooted in the common sense principle that proper spectrum policy and management must be data-centric and guided by maximizing the full economic value of the spectrum to customers, industry and the taxpayers.
The bill, according to a copy supplied to B&C/Multi, would provide for "voluntary incentive auctions," and extend that authority through 2017, though the key for broadcasters will be how that term is interpreted. It would allow the FCC to determine how much to compensate broadcasters and others, but also asks the FCC and NTIA to study an incentive auction pricing regime. The bill would also attempt to prevent spectrum speculation by "prohibiting the acquisition of licenses by a third party with the sole intent of relinquishing such licenses so that such party may participate in an incentive auction." It is unclear how that would be determined. It would also insure that whatever spectrum was auctioned would continue to be shared with nonlicensed devices. The FCC is in the process of authorizing unlicensed devices to share the broadcast band with TV stations.
It would also set receiver standards to allow for more spectrum sharing by reducing the chance of interference.