House Democrats Urge Postponement of Walden Spectrum Bill Vote

WASHINGTON: House Democrats are asking for a postponement of tomorrow’s subcommittee vote on a spectrum bill proffered Tuesday by their Republican colleague. California Democrats Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo sent a letter today to the leadership of the House Commerce Committee asking for the delay. The pair also released a spectrum bill yesterday, just hours after the one from Walden, who scheduled the vote.

“We are writing you to request that you postpone the subcommittee markup scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 1,” they wrote in a letter to Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the technology subcommittee and chief author of the contested legislation. “We make this request for two reasons. First, Chairman Walden released new legislative text on Tuesday, so a delay will give members and stakeholders more time to understand the new language. Second, we were engaged in constructive negotiations toward a bipartisan bill that were abruptly ended in early October. A delay would provide an opportunity for us to resume these negotiations and to share relevant information we have learned since then.”

Walden’s bill, the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum Act, authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions of voluntarily relinquished TV spectrum. It would raise an estimated $15 billion for deficit reduction and provide $3 billion for repacking TV channels. It also allocates a 20 MHz block of contiguous spectrum for a public safety broadband network, including the 700 MHz D block that failed to attract minimum bids as a public-private license four years ago.

Walden and Upton favored auctioning the D block, but Walden’s bill cedes to outright allocation. Waxman and Eshoo concurred on the D block, but took issue with other points in the bill. It provides no set-aside for unlicensed spectrum the TV bands, which Democrats favor. Walden’s bill puts state governments in charge of building the public safety network, and grants deployment and oversight to a private contractor. Democrats favor the formation of a national nonprofit and have dubiety about the cost and accountability of using a private contractor for oversight.

They also questioned the $3 billion channel-repacking fund, and the amount dedicated to create the public safety network.

“This is three times larger than the amount CBO has advised would be necessary to cover broadcasters’ reasonable expenses,” they said. “We do not understand why this broadcaster fund is so generous, especially when the new language provides just $5 billion for building the new public safety network, which is less than half the funds provided in the bipartisan Senate legislation and our proposal.”

Walden said yesterday that his bill was the culmination of five hearings and multiple bipartisan meetings. Eshoo and Waxman said committee Republicans stopped negotiating with Democrats over the spectrum bill in early October to “pursue discussions in the Super Committee.” The Democrats in the meantime said they’d learned “new facts” and wanted to hammer out a bipartisan deal.
~ Deborah D. McAdams