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Waxman-Eshoo Draft Joins Incentive Auction Legislative Parade

Add Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) to the growing list of legislators offering discussion drafts versions of an incentive auction bill.

According to a summary, the bill would provide many of the protections broadcasters have been seeking, including mandating only one, "truly voluntary," prohibiting the FCC from forcing UHF broadcasters to move to VHF; compensating broadcasters for costs of relocation; auction; and keeping the identities of broadcast participants confidential.

But it does not require that the FCC replicate broadcaster coverage areas or interference protections, instead saying that the FCC only has to make "reasonable efforts" to do so.

It also has a provision allowing the FCC to take into account whether it thinks a licensee would unfairly gain from a sale or whether giving up the spectrum is in the public interest, which would add a new wrinkle and give the FCC additional leverage over broadcasters. "To avoid unjust enrichment," says the draft, "the bill instructs the FCC to consider whether a licensee participating in an incentive auction is in good standing and whether such relinquishment would serve the public interest."

The circulation of their draft came on the eve of Friday's (July 15) House Communications Subcommittee hearing on spectrum incentive auctions. The hearing is already slated to deal with a draft from Greg Walden (R-ore.), chairman of the subcommittee, as well as a bill on government spectrum reclamation left over from the last Congress. The discussion drafts are meant to prompt discussion, which they almost certainly will during Friday's hearing, whose start time has been moved from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

It is starting early to avoid floor votes that sometimes bisect hearings and leave witnesses cooling their heals for an hour or more.

The Walden draft also protects the identities of broadcasters, and only requires reasonable efforts to replicate coverage and signal protection.

There is also a new incentive auction bill draft from Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Gene Green (D-Tex.) that would provide similar broadcaster protections, but would require the FCC to replicant and protect.

The Waxman-Eshoo bill would allocate the D block of spectrum to emergency responders for an interoperable broadband emergency communications. It shares that with the Rockefeller, King and Dingell-Green bills. The Walden bill does not specify but appears to lean toward auctions, as does its author.

There is also a long-standing bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), to reallocate the D block. Then there is the Senate bill--backed by Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), that has already been reported favorably out of the Commerce Committee. It would allocate the D block and ask the FCC to protect broadcasters, though not mandate it.