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Senate bill would allow unlimited repacking of TV spectrum

Amidst all the madness on Capitol Hill about the future of the federal budget, a package of legislation being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid allows the FCC to repack a television station's spectrum without limits.

The bill authorizes the FCC to compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum to support wireless broadband but leaves out language that directs the FCC to do broadcaster-friendly things like replicate coverage or protect against interference.

"If the Commission determines that it is in the public interest to modify the spectrum usage rights of any incumbent licensee in order to facilitate the assignment of such new initial licenses subject to new service rules, or the designation of spectrum for an unlicensed use, the Commission may disburse to such licensee a portion of the auction proceeds for the purpose of relocating to any alternative frequency or location that the Commission may designate," the Senate legislation states.

In addition to compensation, broadcasters want protections for their coverage areas and from the dislocations from significant channel changes. Reid's bill does not cover any relocation costs or any costs incurred by cable and other MVPD operators for new equipment or construction related to carriage of relocated broadcast stations.

Reid's plan anticipates $15 billion in revenue from spectrum auctions. Part of the proceeds from an incentive auction to reclaim broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband will go toward deficit reduction according to various bills now in Congress.

It is hard to predict how the Senate proposal will ultimately fare, since the broadcasters are caught up in the larger dispute between Democrats and Republicans over the federal budget.