Key representatives introduce bill to authorize voluntary incentive auctions

The FCC’s concept of incentive auctions, which would allow TV broadcasters that voluntarily relinquish spectrum to share in the proceeds from the auction of that spectrum, took a step towards becoming reality July 29 with the introduction of the Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act of 2010 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jointly introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, and subcommittee ranking member Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), the bill authorizes incentive auctions for only those instances in which television broadcasters or other spectrum holders willingly enter into agreements with the FCC to surrender spectrum in return for a portion of the auction revenues.

As introduced, the bill explicitly prevents the commission from clawing back frequency from TV broadcasters that do not choose to participate in the incentive auction. “The Federal Communications Commission shall not reclaim frequencies of broadcast television licensees or any other licenses directly or indirectly on an involuntary basis …,” the bill says.

Our goal is to ensure that any incentive auctions the Federal Communications Commision conducts are truly voluntary," Boucher said in a press statement.

"It is important to stress that any incentive auctions conducted by the FCC are truly voluntary. No spectrum licensee, whether a broadcaster or wireless provider, should be forced to give up the spectrum they currently hold," Stearns added in the statement.

Besides prohibiting the commission from reclaiming spectrum from licensees involuntarily, the bill establishes authority for the commission to conduct voluntary incentive auctions and share proceeds with licensees of spectrum auctioned. It also gives the FCC the authority to establish what percentage of the proceeds to share with licensees. The act directs the FCC to set up rules to implement a voluntary revenue sharing plan not later than one year following enactment of the act.

Incentive auctions are a key element of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which seeks 500MHz of spectrum to meet anticipated demand for wireless broadband Internet service, 120MHz of which the commission wishes to reclaim from TV broadcasters.

In separate statements issued July 29, the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) and NAB expressed their support for the bill.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.