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Northpoint finds allies

A Northpoint Technology-backed bill introduced in the Senate (S. 2922) would rename multichannel video and data distribution service (MVDDS) and rewrite the FCC's rules for its creation in the 12 GHz satellite band.

Most important for Northpoint, the Emergency Communications and Competition Act of 2002 would no longer require that the licenses be auctioned, which the FCC had mandated in its April decision creating the service.

Instead, it would assign them according to a licensee's readiness to provide service and willingness to meet certain criteria: carriage of TV stations, provision of early-alert- system warnings, launching services within five years and passing a test for possible interference with DBS, all of which Northpoint has said it will do.

The bill was introduced Sept. 10 by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), both of whom pointed to the creation of a new video competitor to cable in rural areas as an important reason for the bill. It would streamline the service's official moniker to terrestrial direct broadcast service, or TDBS.

Northpoint, which laid the groundwork for the new service, has been saying all along it should not have to pay for the licenses, since satellite braodcasters in the band got theirs for free.

When the FCC created MVDDS, it conceded that Northpoint laid the groundwork for the new service but said that its "equitable" claim did not trump Congress's desire for auctions. Burns addressed that point specifically in introducing the bill: "I appreciate the FCC's effort to help generate new revenues for the Federal Treasury," he said, "but we must never let that consideration override good public-policy judgments."

The Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association criticized the bill, saying, "There is simply no justification for this latest ploy to get Congress—without any hearings or legislative review—to overturn the FCC's decision that any potential spectrum-sharing be determined by public auction."