House subcommittee advances spectrum bill

A bill that authorizes the FCC to sell TV broadcast spectrum in an auction and allocates spectrum for public safety passed through a House subcommittee.

A spectrum bill has passed through a subcommittee in the House of Representatives that authorizes FCC incentive auctions and also allocates spectrum to public safety.

On Thursday, the communications and technology subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum Act (JOBS Act).

The legislation authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to create an auction for selling wireless spectrum voluntarily released by TV broadcasters. And it also includes provisions for allocating spectrum and funding a nationwide public safety mobile broadband network.

Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who sponsored the bill, said it would help create 100,000 new jobs and also net the U.S. treasury about $15 billion in revenue from the auction.

The incentive auctions that were approved would allow TV broadcasters to sell spectrum that they aren't using in an FCC auction. These broadcasters would then split the proceeds with the government.

The FCC has said there is a spectrum shortage, and in its National Broadband Plan it called for making 500MHz of spectrum available over the next 10 years. The incentive auctions would be a start to reaching this goal.

But broadcasters have opposed the incentive auctions and have complained that the FCC has already taken away enough wireless spectrum from them. That said, the National Association of Broadcasters said it supports the bill that was passed by the subcommittee.

The spectrum auction authorization was just one piece of the bill. Another section of the legislation also allocated 10MHz of unsold spectrum from to public safety . The FCC had tried to auction the so-called D block of spectrum in its 700MHz spectrum auction. But it put conditions on the sale of spectrum requiring buyers to share the spectrum with public safety. No buyers were found to meet the minimum bid requirement, and the spectrum has been unallocated since the auction.

Public safety groups have asked Congress to give them the D block to build a nationwide interoperable public safety network. But some Republican lawmakers, including Walden, previously opposed this action. Instead, they wanted the spectrum to be sold at auction.

As part of the new bill that passed through the subcommittee, the spectrum will be set aside for public safety and there will be roughly $6.5 billion allocated to build and maintain the network. The funding for the network will come from the incentive auctions for the TV broadcast spectrum.

Some Democratic members of the subcommittee opposed some parts of the bill. For example, they said that the bill would auction off all the spectrum that is being voluntarily given up by TV broadcasters. And they complained there was no room left for unlicensed spectrum use.

Another controversial amendment to the bill also would prohibit the FCC from enforcing Net neutrality rules on new spectrum license holders. The FCC approved new Net neutrality rules late last year.

The bill will now move to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, which will debate it and vote on it. Democrats said they hoped they could work with Republicans to craft a compromise before the full committee vote, according to The Hill.

In the Senate, a similar version of the spectrum bill passed the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in June. But it has yet to come before the full Senate for a vote. The spectrum issue was considered in discussions this summer over the debt ceiling, and there was discussion it could be part of an agreement to come out of the debt-reduction super committee. But those deals collapsed last week. President Obama has also included spectrum provisions in his Jobs bill, but Congress has not acted on that either.

 

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