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Spectrum Bill Passage Draws a Crowd

Reaction continued to pour in over the electronic transom to the Senate Commerce Committee passage Wednesday of an incentive auction/first responder broadband network bill.

"The Senate Commerce Committee's action today marks a major milestone in ensuring that our nation's spectrum resources are put to the highest use. Authorizing the FCC to conduct incentive auctions will result in millions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury, while securing our nation's wireless future," said Michael Petricone, senior VP of governmental affairs.

"We urge Congress to move forward on legislation to free up additional spectrum for wireless broadband as expeditiously as possible."

CEA has been pushing the FCC and Congress hard to get spectrum back from broadcasters.

The American Cable Association was pleased that the bill did not increase cable operators' TV station carriage obligations. ACA President Matthew Polka praised an approach he said "at once promotes spectrum efficiency, safeguards the interests of the public safety community and minimizes the impact of these policies on other parties," like his membership of small and midsized cable operators. "Inclusion of incentive auctions designed by the Federal Communications Commission is another positive feature, especially because it will provide funding to compensate cable operators for all costs associated with carrying TV stations that share spectrum or are repacked. ACA is also pleased the Senate bill will not expand TV station must carry rights on cable systems beyond what's provided in current law."

The bill included an amendment saying that the TV band "white spaces" the FCC authorized for use by unlicensed devices would remain available in the post-reclamation TV band, but unlicensed spectrum fan Free Press suggested the bill might not be able to achieve that goal given the way it was written. "The legislation currently expresses a clear goal of maintaining adequate unlicensed spectrum, but the bill's limits on FCC flexibility may make this goal impossible to achieve," said Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood.

Free Press is concerned about a provision in the bill that requires the first 84 MHz of spectrum reclaimed be auctioned for commercial purposes, which means it would not be available for unlicensed use. So long as the FCC gets the 120 MHz it is hoping for voluntarily from broadcasters, it won't be an issue for Free Press, but it would prefer there not be that mandatory commercial minimum if the FCC gets less than it is expecting.

The bill authorizes the FCC to reclaim and re-auction broadcast spectrum and compensate the broadcasters for giving it up. It must still pass the Senate and then the House, or be reconciled with a similar bill introduced there.

"This significant development follows several months of hard work, compromise and negotiation, and is consistent with public safety's top priority to gain D block allocation and federal funding necessary to realize a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network," said PSA spokesman Deputy Chief Charles Dowd of New York City Police Department.  PSA represents an alliance of police and fire officials that has been pushing for D block allocation.

"The Public Safety, Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act advances three significant policy goals for the American economy," said Verizon VP Peter Davidson. "First, it would bring spectrum to the mobile market that will facilitate more investment and innovation in the wireless broadband space. Second, auctions for this newly available spectrum will generate significant revenue to help address the nation's deficits. Third, this measure advances the decade-long push for an interoperable public safety broadband network that brings the most advanced communications technologies to first responders."

"AT&T has long supported the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act and its goals of adequately addressing the spectrum crisis our industry is facing while at the same time ensuring that our nation's first responders receive the critical resources they need to communicate during emergencies," said Tim McKone, AT&T EVP of Federal Relations.