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Dingell Spectrum Bill Protects Broadcast 'Essentials'

Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Gene Greene (D-Tex.) late Monday introduced the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, a version of the Senate incentive auction bill with one one key difference: It gives broadcasters many of the protections they have been seeking to insure an incentive auction/spectrum reclamation plan does not marginalize their digital future.

"Although I recognize the country's growing need for spectrum, that spectrum should not be forcibly and unfairly taken from broadcasters, which also would negatively impact consumers," said Dingell in a statement.  "Our bill ensures that a voluntary incentive auction will be truly voluntary and provide a fair opportunity to grow the Nation's wireless spectrum inventory."

The legislators' respective offices said Monday that both the National Association of Broadcasters and the Communications Workers of America support their bill.

The FCC is planning to auction up to 120 Mhz of broadcast spectrum and is counting on Congress to give it the authority to share some of those proceeds with broadcasters as an incentive to their participation.

According to a copy of the bill, it would allow for repacking of stations--moving them closer to together to make more room for wireless broadband. But it would only allow that so long as those stations that wanted it were give the same 6 MHz worth of spectrum, and were given a comparable tower heights, power levels and interference protections. It would specify that there be only one auction, and that broadcasters be reimbursed for moving expenses.

It would also make it the law that no station could be forced to share facilities, but would be allowed to share a 6 MHz channel so long as each were given primary status for the purposes of must-carry by cable operators.

The heads of the Big Four Network Affiliate associations last week gave Congress a list of "essential safeguards" that should be in any spectrum incentive auctions legislation, which is teed up in both the House and Senate.

In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the affiliate chiefs said that repacking stations to make room for wireless broadband is involuntary, and while they do not oppose involuntary incentive auctions, the involuntary part must be mitigated, and broadcasters "held harmless," the new lobbying term of art, by the following four provisions in any legislation.

The Dingell-Greene bill basically incorporates those "essentials" into the Senate bill, which only said that every effort should be made to hold broadcasters harmless, but did not say there was to be only one auction or put teeth into those efforts by making them mandatory. It also provides some protections to low-power TV stations in the reclamation process.

Broadcasters have said they need to be reimbursed for the costs of being moved or repacked, and the Dingell-Greene bill does, too. Those would include the cost of replacement transmission equipment, consumer education, and "any other costs directly or indirectly resulting from 10 the reassignment of channels in a 11 designated market area."

Like the Senate bill, it would allocate the D Block of spectrum for an emergency broadband network, rather than auction it as current law requires. The network will be created and maintained with some of the proceeds from the auction of reclaimed broadcast spectrum.

The announcement of the bill from the two House Communications Subcommittee members comes in advance of a Friday hearing on spectrum and the emergency network in that subcommittee. Subcommittee Chair Greg Walden plans to discuss his own draft of a  spectrum auction bill at that hearing, according to a subcommittee spokesperson.