Latest Spectrum Bill Prohibits Involuntary Turnover
WASHINGTON: A spectrum-related bill
rolled out on Capitol Hill today explicitly prohibits involuntary reclamation.
Incentive Auctions Act of 2010” states that, “The Federal Communications
Commission shall not reclaim frequencies of broadcast television licensees or
any other licensees directly or indirectly on an involuntary basis.”
Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), communications subcommittee chairman, and Cliff
Stearns (R-Fla.), its ranking member, introduced the bill. The intent is to
free up radio frequency spectrum for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan without
elbowing incumbents out. The bill authorizes the FCC to share auction proceeds
with broadcasters, and gives the agency discretion to determine how much.
The Plan, unveiled in March, included a proposal to share auction proceeds with
TV station licensees who voluntarily give up spectrum. It seeks to reclaim 120
MHz--around 40 percent--of the spectrum allocated for television broadcasting.
The Plan received President Obama’s official blessing last month. (
See “Obama Memo Orders
Agencies to Free 500 MHz for Broadband.”)
The Boucher-Stearns bill applies “only in instances in which television
broadcasters or other spectrum holders willingly enter into agreements with the
Boucher emphasized the goal of the legislation was to “ensure that any incentive
auctions the [FCC] conducts are truly voluntary.”
Stearns said, “No spectrum licensee, whether a broadcaster or wireless
provider, should be forced to give up the spectrum they currently hold.
One thing the bill does not address is potential new fees levied on
broadcasters who do not hand over spectrum. The FCC has floated the notion, to
the objection of the National Association of Broadcasters.
“Stations that choose not to participate in a voluntary incentive auction must
not be subjected to onerous new spectrum taxes that would make it increasingly
difficult for stations to finance local programming, operations and
newsgathering efforts,” NAB chief Gordon Smith recently said in a
Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council.
The Boucher-Stearns bill follows an announcement from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.)
last week that he intended to introduce legislation authorizing the FCC to
share auction proceeds with broadcasters. The FCC cannot do so without a
Congressional mandate. Rockefeller’s play came just two days after Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) bowed a revenue-sharing
Several other spectrum-related bills circulating on the Hill call for spectrum
inventories and auctioning of the public-safety D Block. The FCC is scheduled
to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on its broadcast-spectrum proposals
-- Deborah D. McAdams