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More Spectrum Hearings In Works

The House Communications Subcommittee is looking to hold at least two more spectrum-related hearings in the next six weeks, and perhaps a third, according to sources.

The first, likely in late May, would be on allocation/auction of the D block of spectrum for public safety communications, according to one source, and another in mid-June on the incentive authority the FCC would need to compensate broadcasters and other commercial users who give up spectrum.

Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) in April held the first of what he indicated would be several spectrum hearings. He said those future hearings would be about "who is using spectrum, what the demands and needs are, what issues arise when you change things, how is the marketplace affected, and who pays for it."

The White House and some in Congress are proposing allocating that D block of spectrum to public safety and paying for the network out of the broadcast spectrum auction proceeds. Others say the D block itself should be auctioned for a public/private partnership to create an emergency communications network.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are under pressure from public safety organizations to provide spectrum for an interoperable, national broadband network as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, and the FCC needs the incentive auction authority if it wants to persuade broadcasters to give up about a third of their remaining spectrum--up to 120 MHz --to be auctioned.

But Walden has said he would not be "rushed by arbitrary or historical timelines or deadlines," telling an American Cable Association conference audience last month that: "I want to make sure the subcommittee and the full committee have as solid an understanding of spectrum needs and demands and issues involved as possible before we legislate." He said he does plan to legislate, but that he "wants to get it right" the first time. That bill could be targeted for sometime in July, said one source.

A subcommittee spokesperson would only say that "no hearings have been scheduled yet."

Broadcasters have said they are not opposed to voluntary spectrum auctions, but argue that the reassigning of broadcasters who remain in order to free up more contiguous blocks of spectrum for wireless does not sound voluntary to them. The National Association of Broadcasters has also argued that there are other ways to free up spectrum, including more efficient use, allowing broadcasters to strike carriage deals to help carry wireless broadband traffic during peak loads, and addressing what they argue is spectrum speculation and warehousing by some spectrum holders.