House plans spectrum bill markup

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee, reportedly plans to mark up the spectrum incentive auction bill on Oct. 4, paving the way for broadcast spectrum auctions.

In the House, a markup is the time when amendments are made to legislation and, with any luck, the bill is voted on and approved by the committee or subcommittee. This particular bill is important for OTA stations because it would authorize auctions for broadcast spectrum.

Broadcasters have been cautious about their support of the legislation. While they have not come right out against it, they appear worried there is insufficient interference and coverage area protections in current legislation for the broadcasters that do not sell their spectrum.

The FCC has indicated it will have to “repack stations” to clear a swath of spectrum to auction for wireless broadband. This has broadcasters nervous as well, though there is bipartisan support for the spectrum auctions.

A separate incentive auction bill backed by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has been incorporated into President Obama’s jobs bill.

Although the NAB has expressed its opposition to the auctions, the big unknown factor is how many broadcast stations will take advantage of the government’s offer to exit the business with a profit from the auctions. Over-the-air viewership is now at about 10 percent of the viewing population, as huge numbers of television viewers are shifting viewing allegiance to the Internet.