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Warner Bill Would Cap Broadcaster Spectrum Compensation

Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), who in another life co-founded Nextel, has introduced an incentive auction bill to free up wireless spectrum. The bill authorizes payments to broadcasters who voluntarily give up spectrum, but also directs the FCC to "establish a maximum revenue sharing threshold applicable to all licensees within any auction." There is a caveat that the threshold could be upped if, as a result, the government got more money or more spectrum.

Warner's Spectrum Optimization Act would "authorize the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set up incentive auctions for specific types of spectrum that cannot be freed-up under current law," by which it means spectrum, including broadcast spectrum, that the FCC is trying to free up over the next 5-10 years but needs the authority to compensate incumbents with a share of the auctions revenues if the program is to be voluntary.

The bill would provide a framework for the incentive auctions, which the White House has been pushing for so that spectrum can be used to help get mobile broadband to get 4G 98% of Americans within five years. According to just-released Commerce Department data, only a little over a third of Americans have access to 4G speeds (6 Mbps), although 95% have access to 3G (768kbps).

FCc Chairman Julius Genachowski has also been pushing Congress to authorize payments to current spectrum license-holders.

The bill would require auction rules to be established within 180 days and the auctions to be conducted within two years.

A source familiar with the bill said it is being vetted by broadcasters as well as the office of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) who also has an incentive auction bill focused primarily on those auctions as a way to pay for an interoperable broadband network for first responders.

The White House also wants the proceeds to pay for that network, as well as for a mobile broadband build-out subsidy through the Universal Service Fund.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.