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House Dems Propose Own Spectrum Auction Bill

It was a case of dueling spectrum incentive auction bills Tuesday as Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee introduced The Democrats Wireless Innovation and Public Safety Act, their own version of a House bill, only hours after Republicans introduced their version, saying they were sorry a bipartisan bill had not been possible.

Both bills would give the FCC authority to reclaim, reauction and compensate broadcasters for their spectrum, and would allocate, rather than auction, D block spectrum for a national, interoperable wireless communications network.

A committee source said the issues leading to the lack of agreement likely included differences over governance of the public safety network, how unlicensed spectrum was treated in the bill, how much money broadcasters would get, FCC authority over bidding eligibility and treatment of next generation 911 service, among other issues. A fact sheet on the new bill is available here.

Like the Republican bill, the Democratic bill says the auction must be voluntary and that the FCC must make best efforts to preserve the coverage areas of TV stations that remain, and cover their costs for moving or sharing channels, and the costs of multichannel video providers to carry those reconfigured signals.

The Democratic bill would have the following rules on "reorganizing" the broadcast TV spectrum:

- "Participation in an incentive auction must be truly voluntary.

- The FCC is prohibited from involuntarily relocating broadcasters from ultra high frequency (UHF) spectrum to very high frequency (VHF) spectrum.

- The FCC may reassign and repack television broadcast station licensees, but must make reasonable efforts to ensure such licensees retain service that is substantially similar in service contour and amount of harmful interference.

- The FCC must ensure that television broadcast licensees are compensated for costs associated with relocation as well as any modification of spectrum usage rights resulting from reorganization. The FCC must also make reasonable efforts to preserve the amount of population covered by the signal of licensees affected by any modification and to avoid any substantial increase in harmful interference as a result of such modification.

- The FCC is prohibited from involuntarily co-locating multiple television broadcast station licensees on the same channel. Any licensee that voluntarily elects to be co-located would retain the carriage rights associated with the shared location.

- Multi-channel video programming distributors (MVPDs) will be reimbursed for certain costs associated with the incentive auction.

- The FCC is required to treat as confidential the identity of broadcast licensees participating in an incentive auction.

- The FCC is limited to conducting only one incentive auction. Not later than 18 months following enactment, the FCC must complete a rulemaking proceeding to carry out the reorganization of television broadcast spectrum.

- A new Incentive Auction Relocation Fund is created to compensate broadcast licensees for costs associated with relocation and modification. $1 billion is made available under the Fund for costs associated with relocation, including costs of new equipment, installation, and construction as well as costs incurred by MVPDs."

The National Association of Broadcasters was still vetting the bills at press time and a Democratic committee source said they were not given a copy of the Republican bill before its release.

The Democratic bill was sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and House Communications Subcommittee, respectively. "While there continue to be key policy differences with the approach taken by the Majority, I remain hopeful that Thursday's Subcommittee markup will provide an opportunity to debate these differences and finally reach a bipartisan compromise," said Waxman in a statement.

Other co-sponsors of the bill include Democratic Reps. Ed Markey, Mike Doyle, Doris Matsui, Donna Christensen, Frank Pallone, Jr., Diana DeGette, Eliot Engel and Jan Schakowsky. That list included all the Communications Subcommittee members except John Dingell, Bobby Rush, Edolphus Towns and John Barrow.

The Wireless Communications Association International, responding to both bills, just seemed happy to have movement on legislation to free up spectrum. "WCAI applauds House leadership for their efforts to move forward with spectrum legislation this year," the group said. "Making additional spectrum available for mobile broadband will meet consumer demand for mobile services, produce jobs, and promote public safety."