Markey: Spectrum Bills Are Coming

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Industry and Hill reaction followed quickly on the heels of the Federal Communcations Commission's unanimous vote Tuesday to pave the way for reclaiming and repurposing broadcast spectrum for broadband use.

In the cautious, trust but verify camp was The National Association of Broadcasters. After all, it is their business being potentially remade starting only 18 months after the DTV switch.

"NAB has no quarrel with incentive auctions that are truly voluntary," said NAB president Gordon Smith. "Going forward, we believe policymakers have an obligation to maintain digital TV services currently provided by broadcasters and to allow free TV viewers to benefit from DTV video innovations."

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said Tuesday after the vote that his expectation was that it was not an either/or scenario when it came to broadband and broadcast and that he still anticipated a robust broadcast service. He pointed out that the FCC was looking for up to 120 MHZ of spectrum out of a total of about 300 MHZ.

But the FCC's Tuesday vote did open up the possibility of getting more from broadcasters since it reclassified the band for co-primary use by fixed and mobile wireless broadband.

"NAB will oppose government-mandated signal strength degradations or limitations, and new spectrum taxes that threaten the future of free and local broadcasting," said Smith. The FCC is trying to figure out how to adjust re-jigger TV stations to free up more spectrum space, including by channel sharing and repacking them into lower VHF positions, which are not as effective as UHF allotments at delivering DTV signals, the opposite of the analog regime.

Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement that he was going to introduce legislation next year to help the FCC meet its broadband plan goal of freeing up 300 MHZ for broadband within five years and 500 within 10 years. That plan requires congressional action to approve incentive auctions to compensate broadcasters for moving off spectrum; Genachowski said Tuesday that authority was crucial as a marketplace lever to generate that broadcasters' interest in moving.

"Spectrum is the oxygen of the Internet ecosystem, and its looming scarcity needs to be addressed to ensure the continued growth of the wireless broadband applications and services that help power our economy," said Markey. "The proliferation of smart phones and wireless netbooks has revolutionized the way we work and entertain ourselves, but also saps our supply of available spectrum. I commend the Commission for taking action on this issue, which is so important for innovation, investment and job creation."

Also in a commending mood was Public Knowledge legal director Harold Feld.

"We commend the Federal Communications Commission for its actions this morning on spectrum policy," he said. "Together, they show the willingness to make certain that all options are being considered, from auctions to leasing spectrum to use of unlicensed spectrum."

Genachowski said the FCC would consider the leasing option, but was not sanguine about that prospect. He said leasing would not free up the contiguous blocks important to broadband use.

Wireless companies who are eyeing that freed-up spectrum were unsurprisingly buoyed by the move.

"CTIA and its members look forward to working with the FCC, Congress and all stakeholders to ensure that significant amounts of broadcast spectrum are made available for auction," said CTIA: The Wireless Association president Steve Largent. "Bringing this spectrum to market will allow our members to bid for the right to purchase it, resulting in billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury and enabling the wireless industry to continue to invest and fuel our ‘virtuous cycle' of innovation and competition."