Congressional supercommittee urged to adopt broadcast spectrum legislation

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and the committee's ranking member, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), have asked the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to include the broadcast spectrum incentive auction bill in any proposed deficit reduction plan.

The Commerce Committee legislation would create incentive for television broadcasters to give up their spectrum for government auction. Wireless carriers are expected to pay billions of dollars for the spectrum licenses, helping the government reduce its deficit and helping use the D Block of spectrum to build a nationwide public safety broadband network.

"The measure provides significant short-term and long-term benefits to our nation's fiscal health, economic and job growth and public safety," the lawmakers wrote to supercommittee members, who were mandated by an August stopgap appropriations bill with reducing the federal deficit by over $1 trillion dollars.

Rockefeller and Hutchison said the bill passed the committee 21 to 4. It was also made part of the president's jobs bill that was blocked in the Senate, and before that a part of the stopgap appropriations bill before being excised on procedural grounds.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would reduce the deficit by $6.5 billion, but the lawmakers told the supercommittee they would amend the measure to generate as much as $10 billion for deficit reduction.

While most lawmakers support building a nationwide network for first responders, using the D Block to do it is more controversial. As prime spectrum, critics of the giving the D Block spectrum to public safety officials argue that it could be leased to higher bidders to raise more revenue for the government. They say public safety agencies should be given other spectrum bands for their network.

The Rockefeller-Hutchison spectrum bill passed their committee in June but has not come up for a vote in the full Senate. The supercommittee is looking to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit.

The senators pitched the bill not only for its deficit reduction potential, which it conceded was what made it most relevant to the supercommittee, but as a job creator and economic driver.