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Senate Commerce Committee Passes Incentive Auction Bill 21-4

With promises to continue to work on the bill before it gets to a floor vote, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 21 to 4 Wednesday to authorize incentive auctions that would compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum for wireless broadband.

It would also compensate broadcasters who retain spectrum but are "repacked" to make larger, contiguous swaths of spectrum available for wireless, and would compensate cable operators for any adjustments they had to make to their retransmissions of the reconfigured broadcasters.

The bill, appropriately numbered S. 911, is primarily about creating an interoperable broadband network for first responders, which would be paid for out of the proceeds of the reaction of that reclaimed broadcast spectrum for wireless.

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 helped prod the Senate to come together on a bipartisan bill to create that network, which was one of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission.

The bill allocates the D block of spectrum, reclaimed from broadcasters in the DTV transition, to that public safety network rather than auctioning the spectrum for a public-private partnership.

"We applaud chairman Rockefeller, ranking member Hutchison, and members of the Senate Commerce Committee for advancing a comprehensive approach to spectrum policy that encourages greater spectrum efficiency, meets the broadband needs of public safety personnel, and preserves Commission flexibility with respect to auction design," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell. "We especially appreciate the committee's effort to craft a fair framework for reclaiming broadcast spectrum through incentive auctions that will cover costs incurred by cable operators due to channel sharing or repacking and will not expand or extend current carriage obligations. We look forward to working with the Committee and with Congress as this important legislation is considered in the Senate."

The National Association of Broadcasters had no immediate comment on the legislation, which must now pass the full Senate and move to the Republican-controlled House, where leaders in the Energy & Commerce Committee continue to prefer the D block spectrum be auctioned rather than allocated.