Rockefeller introduces Senate bill authorizing voluntary incentive auctions

The prospect of TV broadcasters benefiting from the proceeds of an auction of some of their spectrum to wireless Internet companies gained some traction last week in the Senate with the introduction of the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act.

Introduced Aug. 5 by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, the bill would give the FCC the authority to conduct incentive auctions aimed at letting spectrum licensees to relinquish spectrum voluntarily in exchange for some of the funds collected by the auction of their spectrum.

According to the bill, “If the commission determines that it is consistent with the public interest in utilization of the spectrum for a licensee to relinquish voluntarily some or all of its licensed spectrum usage rights in order to permit the assignment of new initial licenses subject to new service rules, the commission may disburse to that licensee a portion of the auction proceeds related to the new use that the commission determines, in its discretion, are attributable to the licensee’s relinquished spectrum usage.”

The NAB has expressed its support for the Rockefeller bill. "Broadcasters have no quarrel with incentive auctions that are truly voluntary, and the new legislation provides sound direction for that approach,” said Dennis Wharton, NAB executive vice president of communications, in a press statement released Aug. 6. “We will work closely with Congress as it crafts spectrum legislation that preserves the ability of local TV stations to serve our viewers."

In July, Reps. Rick Boucher, D-VA, and Cliff Stearns, R-FL, introduced the Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act of 2010 in the House.