Rockefeller: Makes No Sense Not To Support Incentive Auction Bill


Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) continued to stump hard for his incentive auction bill Tuesday, which would fund an interoperable broadband emergency communications network. He conceded that those giving up spectrum to help pay for the network would probably not get "full cost."

At a press conference with other likeminded senators including Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rockefeller said every legislator should support the bill, and that it made "no sense" not to.

But there were no Republicans at the press conference, despite Rockefeller's suggestion that essentially everybody was for the bill. Certainly when viewed as preventing a repeat of the first responder loss of life in the 9/11 attacks, the idea of getting those emergency workers the best communications technology and system is a bipartisan goal.

But there remain one or two issues that ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison still has with the bill, Rockefeller said in response to the question of why there were no Republicans among the likeminded group joining him on the stump, though he did not elaborate. Still, he said the goal was to pass the bill with a "good, healthy, bipartisan majority." He said his one fear was that the bill could be held up by a single senator--by custom, the Senate requires unanimous consent to introduce bills for floor consideration, so a single Senator can put a hold on any bill.

One of those remaining Hutchison issues isn't allocation rather than auction of the spectrum, which had been a sticking point with some of those with reservations about the bill.

A spokesperson for Sen. Hutchison was not available for comment at press time, but Hutchison has said she supported the bill's allocation of the 10 MHz of spectrum in the D block for the network rather trying to auction it to a private company that would build out and share the net with first responders. Republicans had generally backed the auction strategy, as had the FCC until recently. Under current law, the D block, which was reclaimed in the DTV transition, has to be auctioned. This bill would change that. It would also give the FCC authority to pay broadcasters who give up their spectrum, the use of which will be auctioned to wireless broadband companies, with that money being divided among the broadcasters, an entity to build and support the emergency net, and for deficit reduction.

Rockefeller conceded that those giving up spectrum would likely be getting less than full value, but that would still be "worthwhile" sense they weren't using all of it. He also told the reporters to write, in capital letters, that the reclamation from broadcasters and others would be voluntary. "No government takeover," he said to put an exclamation point on the point.

But Schumer put as big an exclamation point on the government's need to get the network built and operational.

"We have an obligation to make sure that our first responders have access to the most effective communications systems, in the same way we have an obligation to make sure they have weapons that don't jam, fire hoses that don't burst, and ambulances that don't break down," said Schumer.

Rockefeller also held a press conference last week to push for the bill, which he wants passed before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Creating the interoperable network was one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

"We appreciate the sincere efforts Sens. Rockefeller and Hutchison have made in the draft bill to address broadcaster concerns with voluntary incentive auctions," NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in response to Rockefeller's bill when a draft first circulated last weekend. "We are hopeful our remaining concerns can be accommodated, and we look forward to working closely with them and others to ensure that the interests of viewers are protected as the legislation moves forward."