Commerce committee set to mark up broadcast spectrum bill

The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled an executive committee meeting for May 25, where it is expected to mark up a spectrum incentive bill being worked on by chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and ranking member Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX.).

The goal is to mark up the legislation before the Memorial Day recess, which begins May 27. At a mark up, amendments are proposed and the full committee votes.

Rockefeller and Hutchison have tried to protect broadcasters during the process. While Rockefeller has vowed to keep the spectrum auctions voluntary, the FCC may still have to repack the spectrum of some broadcasters involuntarily as it manipulates the broadcast spectrum to be sold.

The bill's goal is to free up spectrum for a national, interoperable broadband communications network. It authorizes the FCC to pay broadcasters to move off some of their spectrum to make it available. However, a draft of the proposed legislation says that the FCC may not reclaim a broadcaster's spectrum on an involuntary basis.

However, the FCC can force stations that chose not to give up spectrum off their specific spectrum allocation. To do this, it must allocate to the licensee an identical amount of contiguous spectrum, located between channels 14 and 50, in the same geographic market. The legislation assumes that the FCC will be required to repack the spectrum of some stations.

The repacking concerns broadcasters, who fear it may result in reduced signal quality and less coverage. To address this fear, the legislation says that stations cannot be required to share channels during the repacking process and the FCC must preserve the existing coverage area as much as possible.

Gordon Smith, a former senator and now NAB president, is closely watching the draft spectrum reform legislation process.

"We appreciate the sincere efforts Sens. Rockefeller and Hutchison have made in the draft bill to address broadcaster concerns with voluntary incentive auctions," he said. "We are hopeful our remaining concerns can be accommodated, and we look forward to working closely with them and others to ensure that the interests of viewers are protected as the legislation moves forward."