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Copps On Reclaiming Broadcast Spectrum: Handle With Care

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps advises Congress that the FCC should exercise "great caution" in reclaiming spectrum from broadcasters because of the potential harm to a diversity of voices, one of his signature concerns.

That is according to a copy of his prepared testimony for a Thursday House Energy & Commerce Committee oversight hearing on the national broadband plan, itself a report to Congress the FCC completed last week.

"I will be urging great caution," he tells the committee, "because of the possibly detrimental effects of reallocating spectrum from those stations currently using it to serve diverse audiences. Every local voice that disappears runs against the grain of localism, diversity and competition."

His fellow Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, raised that issue last week, saying in no uncertain terms that the FCC "may be doing the country a disservice if our actions left Americans relying on over-the-air television with only the major networks at the expense of smaller stations serving niche audiences who rely on them for their news and information."

The plan includes a proposal to voluntarily collect at least 120 MHz of spectrum from broadcasters, auction that spectrum for wireless broadband uses, and compensate broadcasters from some of the proceeds.

The last part of that equation gives Commissioner Copps pause as well. "Each of us would have, I am sure, some variations on the Plan that has been presented. In matters involving the reclamation of spectrum, for example, I am always conscious of the fact that the airwaves belong to the American people and that licensees may use that spectrum, but they do not own it," he said. "Talk about directly compensating licensees for spectrum runs into that reality."

But those were caveats in a plan Copps celebrates, pointing out to the committee in his testimony that he has been calling for such a plan for almost a decade. "Under the visionary leadership of Chairman Genachowski, and with the hard work of an impressive team of FCC staff," he said, "we now have a Plan with clear objectives and a considered strategy aimed at ensuring that everyone in this country has equal opportunity in this new Digital Age..." he said.

All five commissioners are slated to testify before the committee. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is up first in a broadband plan oversight hearing today (March 23) in the Senate Commerce Committee.