Rockefeller spectrum bill endorses voluntary spectrum return concept


Incumbent communications spectrum licensees who opt to return a slice for auction in the effort to repurpose the airwaves for other wireless applications will be able to share in the proceeds if a new bill by Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is enacted into law. But participation in the program will be voluntary. NAB indicated support for the bill.

A similar bill was recently introduced in the House by Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA). Boucher also made sure to spell out the voluntary nature of broadcast spectrum return decisions.

“Radio spectrum is a very valuable resource,” said Rockefeller. “It can grow our economy and put new and innovative wireless services in the hands of consumers and businesses. It can enhance our public safety by fostering communications between first responders when the unthinkable occurs. But it is also scarce. That is why we need forward-thinking spectrum policy that promotes smart use of our airwaves—and provides public safety officials with the wireless resources they need to keep us safe. The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act will do just that. I look forward to working with the Administration, my House colleagues, and public safety officials to make sure our first responders have the resources they need to protect the public.”

As it did with the Boucher bill, the NAB indicated its support for the measure. NAB’s Dennis Wharton said, “NAB is grateful for the wise leadership of Senator Rockefeller on an issue of critical importance to the millions of viewers who rely on free and local television. Broadcasters have no quarrel with incentive auctions that are truly voluntary, and the new legislation provides sound direction for that approach. We will work closely with Congress as it crafts spectrum legislation that preserves the ability of local TV stations to serve our viewers.”

Here is the key provision in the bill, from a broadcast standpoint: “Provide the FCC with incentive auction authority, which allows existing spectrum licensees to voluntarily relinquish their airwaves in exchange for a portion of the proceeds of the commercial auction of their spectrum. This provides new incentives for efficient use of spectrum. In addition, the funds from these incentive auctions, in conjunction with funds from the auction of other specified spectrum bands, and funds earned from leasing the public safety network on a secondary basis, will be used to fund the construction and maintenance of the nationwide, interoperable, wireless broadband public safety network.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Most broadcasters seem to realize that maximizing their potential going forward will likely involve using all the spectrum they have, and are in no hurry to kiss it good-bye in return for a one-time windfall of unknown value. Any bill that guarantees broadcasters have the last word on whether or not to return spectrum is worth supporting.