It has been to goal of Congress to establish a national emergency interoperable communications system for first responders, ever since the events of 9/11/01 exposed the weaknesses in the system. A new bill will address that issue, and provide for the voluntary auction of spectrum by willing stations in the television band. NAB was conditionally pleased with the bill.
The bill is S.28 the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, sponsored by a posse of Democrats headed by Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).
The key takeaway for broadcasters is that the bill makes it clear in no uncertain terms that television broadcaster participation is voluntary. The bill contains the following language:
“The Commission may not reclaim frequencies licensed to broadcast television licensees or other licensees, directly or indirectly, on an involuntary basis…” and directly thereafter, it says it again, “Nothing in this Act or in the amendments made by this Act shall be construed to permit the Commission to reclaim frequencies of broadcast television licensees or any other licensees directly or indirectly on an involuntary basis for the purpose that section.”
It also gives the FCC authority to share proceeds of the auction with participating broadcasters.
“It’s embarrassing that any teenager with a smartphone has more communications capability than our firefighters, police officers and EMTs,” said Rockefeller. “It’s time we finally fulfill one of the last major recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and give our first responders the tools they need to do their jobs.”
The auction of television spectrum is included here as a funding mechanism. In a release, Rockefeller’s staff wrote that the bill will “[g]ive the Federal Communications Commission the authority to hold incentive auctions based on the voluntary return of spectrum. The funds raised by these incentive auctions will be billions beyond what is needed to pay for building the public safety network. Excess funds—to the tune of $10 billion—will be used to pay down our nation’s deficit.”
NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith, discussing a draft version of the bill making the rounds at the behest of Rockefeller and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), commented, “”We appreciate the sincere efforts Sens. Rockefeller and Hutchison have made in the draft bill to address broadcaster concerns with voluntary incentive auctions. We are hopeful our remaining concerns can be accommodated, and we look forward to working closely with them and others to ensure that the interests of viewers are protected as the legislation moves forward.”