Bill Would Exempt Earth-Based Wireless Video From Auction Requirements

In what could be a boon for Northpoint Technology Inc.'s drive for a terrestrial wireless video service, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and eight other senators introduced the Electronic Communications and Competition Act, which would exempt the company from having to obtain spectrum licenses at auction. Northpoint's tech
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In what could be a boon for Northpoint Technology Inc.'s drive for a terrestrial wireless video service, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and eight other senators introduced the Electronic Communications and Competition Act, which would exempt the company from having to obtain spectrum licenses at auction.

Northpoint's technology, in which multichannel video would be broadcast from towers on the same frequency (12.2 to 12.7 GHz) used by existing satellite television providers, could provide an alternative to cable and satellite providers.

In April, the FCC granted approval for the technology in general, but did not exempt the new entrants from auction requirements.

"[Requiring an auction] would impose a discriminatory tax on an innovative new technology," Landrieu said. "Unfortunately, this is more of the same burdensome regulation that I believe has contributed to the collapse of the telecommunications sector."

She added that an auction would delay the rollout of the service to the public.

Satellite provider EchoStar opposed the FCC's April approval of the technology, arguing that Northpoint's signals would interfere with existing DBS service; Northpoint claims there will be no interference because its tower-based signals are broadcast at a different angle than the DBS signals.

The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association blasted the bill as an anticonsumer spectrum grab that would cause interference and unjustly give "a handful of politically connected individuals millions of dollars of publicly owned spectrum for free."

"There is simply no justification for this latest ploy to get Congress ... to overturn the FCC's decision that any potential spectrum-sharing be determined at public auction," said SBCA President Andy Wright.

The new bill would only grant licenses if operations would not interfere with DBS, though that provision is little comfort to the DBS industry. To sweeten the pot further, the bill requires full carriage of local television stations (something the satellite industry has fought for its service) and an additional set-aside of 4 percent of its capacity for public-service functions such as telemedicine or distance learning. The future licensees would also have to make their systems available for emergency personnel when necessary -- although that too failed to impress the SBCA.

"Northpoint's latest ploy to tout its service as a means to expand the delivery of the Emergency Alert System warnings to enhance national security is shameful," Wright said.

The bill enjoys the support of Consumers Union, National Grange (an agricultural lobby), civil rights groups and the National Congress of American Indians.

"If the FCC auctions use of the 12.2-12.7 GHz band, the potential to bring video and broadband services to our communities in that spectrum will remain unfulfilled," wrote Wilma Mankiller, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

A hearing on the bill has not been set.