House Passes Spectrum Auction Bill
WASHINGTON: The House last night passed legislation authorizing
the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions for broadcast spectrum.
It was included in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which also
extends the payroll tax cut, authorizes the Keystone pipeline expansion, allocates
the D-Block of spectrum for public safety and mandates flood insurance reform. It
passed the House 234-193 late Tuesday.
Sec. 4103 of the bill “grants the FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions under
which it shares some of the proceeds with licensees who return spectrum.” It limits
authority to auctions were there is competition on the “reverse” side that sets
the buy-out price.
The bill restricts the auctions to broadcasters who voluntarily relinquish spectrum,
but curtails administrative remedies for those who do not and who protest their
relocation. It provides up to $3 billion for TV stations and cable headends for
channel repacking, and ensures that sufficient spectrum remains for those broadcasters
who want to stay in the business of broadcasting.
The bill says the FCC will be required to auction spectrum as it clears, while retaining
discretion to “add to the approximately 675 MHz of unlicensed spectrum currently
available below 6 GHz by allowing secondary, shared use of this spectrum, or primary,
dedicated use of other spectrum.” It instructs the FCC and the National Telecommunications
and Information Administration to pursue more secondary allocations for unlicensed
use within government operations in the 5 GHz band.
The legislation specifically prohibits the FCC from using the authority to impose
network neutrality or “mandatory wholesaling” the wireless companies that buy the
TV spectrum. The auction authority is extended through 2021.
President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
“This Congress needs to do its job and stop the tax hike
that’s scheduled to affect 160 million Americans in 18 days,” the White House responded.
“This is not a time for Washington Republicans to score political points against
the President. It’s not a time to refight old ideological battles. And it’s not
a time to break last summer’s bipartisan agreement and hurt the middle class by
cutting things like education, clean energy, and veterans’ programs without asking
the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a statement that went on at some length about
the necessity of the incentive auctions for promoting nationwide broadband:
“Incentive auction authority, which has broad bipartisan support, needs to become
law. Unless we free up new spectrum for mobile broadband, the looming spectrum crunch
risks throttling our mobile economy and frustrating mobile consumers.”
He also said certain provisions would “tie the agency’s hands” with regard to the
uses of unlicensed spectrum. He also took aim at the way it required the FCC to
structure the auctions.
Ensuring that the Commission retains the flexibility to determine the optimal band
plan for new spectrum that becomes available, including the creation of guard bands
and other interference safeguards, will enhance the value of the new commercial
mobile licenses, as will ensuring that the Commission can conduct auctions in ways
that will best further innovation, investment, and competition in the wireless space.
~ Deborah D. McAdams