Sources: Rockefeller Expected to Re-Introduce Spectrum Bill

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According to sources, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) is expected to reintroduce a bill as early as today that would authorize incentive auctions to repay broadcasters who voluntarily give up spectrum for wireless broadband.

The bill would make it clear that the reclamation needs to be truly voluntary.

If it were reintroduced, it would come the same day that the FCC voted to create a technical framework for an interoperable public safety network. Rockefeller's bill would pay for that network out of proceeds from the spectrum auctions, as well as give spectrum to public safety for that purpose.

There has been some disagreement in Congress and in the public safety community over whether the government should give the so-called D block of spectrum to first responders or auction it and try to create a public-private partnership that would create a commercial network that first responders could use whenever they needed it.

The Coalition for 4G in America, which includes Clearwire, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile, want the FCC to auction that spectrum.

The D block is the spectrum the FCC tried to auction in 2007 to create that public-private partnership to build a national, interoperable public safety network. It failed to draw the FCC's minimum bid. The FCC has made re-auctioning that spectrum, which 4G supports, part of its national broadband plan. It would not mandate a public-private partnership, but would require the winning bidder to make that 10 MHz of spectrum available for public safety in an emergency.

Rockefeller's bill would put the spectrum directly in the hands of public safety, allocating the 10 MHz of spectrum for use by first responders, who could lease the spectrum to commercial users on a pre-emptive basis. Rockefeller would fund operation of that network with proceeds from the planned auction of broadcast spectrum reclaimed for wireless broadband.

There were a number of incentive auction bills introduced in the last Congress, including a Senate bill introduced by Senate Communications Subcommittee hairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and senior Commerce Committee member Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) that would levy a spectrum fee on the broadcasters who don't give up spectrum. Broadcasters argue that would not be voluntary, and the Rockefeller bill has no spectrum fees.

A broadcast industry source said the re-introduced bill is essentially the same as the one introduced in the last Congress, with a few tweaks, but still to broadcasters' liking. A Rockefeller spokesperson was not available for comment at press time.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has been stumping for swift congressional action on a bill to authorize paying broadcasters out of the treasury. The FCC has the authority to move broadcasters without paying them, but broadcasters would not go without a fight and the chairman has repeatedly indicated the incentive auction is the way to make more room for more spectrum by giving broadcasters the incentive to give up spectrum real estate.

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