Rockefeller to Bow Spectrum-Auction Authority Bill

WASHINGTON: Yet another spectrum bill is about to drop on Capitol Hill, this one from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.). Rockefeller said this week he will introduce legislation authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to share auction proceeds with licensees who voluntarily relinquish spectrum.

“This proposal will not require the return of spectrum from existing commercial users, but will instead provide them with a voluntary opportunity to realize a portion of auction revenues if they wish to facilitate putting spectrum to new and productive uses,” he said in a statement announcing the bill.

Sharing in auction proceeds was proffered in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan as an incentive for TV broadcasters to release spectrum. Current statute requires that all such proceeds go to the U.S. Treasury. The FCC must have Congressional approval to conduct incentive auctions.

Another bill authorizing this revenue-sharing model was introduced Monday by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John Kerry (D-Mass.). That bill also requires a detailed study on occupancy and use of the spectrum. Previous spectrum bills have focused on directing the FCC to conduct similar, though not as detailed, inventories. The content of Rockefeller’s bill--the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act--has not yet been made available. He said it would be introduced within a few days.

Rockefeller said the bill would provide an additional 10 MHz of spectrum for a national interoperable, public-safety wireless broadband network. It was unclear if Rockefeller was referring to the 10 MHz D Block that failed to draw a minimum bid in the 2008 700 MHz auction of DTV transition spectrum. The D Block was to serve a public-private consortium of bidders who never materialized.

The public-safety community has since asserted that 10 MHz is not adequate for a nationwide network. It has lobbied for an additional 10 adjacent to the D Block. Pending legislation in the House directs the FCC to create a single license and authorize construction permits for the D Block. The FCC has already granted conditional approval to 21 municipalities to build out public safety networks on 700 MHz allocations in their own markets.-- Deborah D. McAdams