Draft Bill Seeks FCC Framework for Fed Spectrum Auction

Congress was already looking at incentivizing government spectrum users to share, now it is adding a framework for FCC auction of that reclaimed spectrum for wireless broadband.

A draft bill is being circulated for discussion in the House Communications Subcommittee this week (http://docs.house.gov/meetings/IF/IF16/20151007/104037/BILLS-114pih-Spec...) that would ask the FCC to come up with a plan to auction federal spectrum for use by wireless broadband.

The bill, the "Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015," does not identify the spectrum that would be auctioned, but asks the FCC to get together with the head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration to come up with a framework for rules and procedures for relocating federal users or sharing of bands with non-federal users, plus a timeline for competitive bidding.

It would require the FCC to produce a series of reports to the House and Senate Commerce committees outlining preparations for such and auction process, including draft rules and timelines and specific frequencies. The report also needs to talk about balancing licensed and unlicensed spectrum, a hot-button issue given that any spectrum reserved for unlicensed reduces the auction take to the treasury but also fuels wireless access, including through Wi-Fi hot spots.

The draft is in advance of an Oct. 7 hearing on federal spectrum in the House Communications Subcommittee, where the subcommittee is already scheduled to kick the tires on a bill, H.R. 1641, the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act of 2015, that would provide incentives for government users to give up their spectrum for such an auction (http://docs.house.gov/meetings/IF/IF16/20151007/104037/BILLS-1141641ih.pdf) by changing the law to allow federal agencies to share in auction proceeds, just as broadcasters are being compensated for giving up spectrum for the incentive auction. Currently, agencies can only be compensated for relocation and sharing costs from auction proceeds.

The goal of both bills is to create a "steady supply of commercially usable spectrum" to handle the data usage demands of smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices.

"Though there has been progress made in achieving the goals set forth by the National Broadband Plan, additional spectrum is still needed to satisfy the spectrum clearing targets," the majority staff memo for the hearing said. "Federally-held spectrum has been considered as an opportunity for consolidating systems and repurposing cleared bands for commercial use as the Federal government is the largest single user of spectrum."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.