Federal Spectrum Incentive Act would incentivize government agencies to give up spectrum

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation aimed at incentivizing federal agencies to relinquish their spectrum holdings or share with other agencies in a bill modeled after the FCC's planned broadcast TV spectrum incentive auctions.

The bill, the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, would give government agencies a part of wireless spectrum auction proceeds for giving up their spectrum. As part of the bill, the government would create a new so-called Federal Spectrum Incentive Auction Fund that would let government get access to a portion of the revenue from the auctions of spectrum they gave up. Then, the agencies could use that money to offset across-the-board sequestration spending cuts, expand existing programs or launch new efforts.

Similarly, the FCC's incentive auction encourages broadcasters to give up their spectrum in return for part of the auction proceeds. The FCC recently pushed back the start of those auctions to mid-2015 in order to get the rules right.

Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) introduced the new Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

Walden said the bill could be set for a vote in the full House Energy and Commerce Committee as soon as Wednesday. However, any final legislation would require approval by the full House and Senate.

"As the single largest spectrum user in the country, the United States government must be more efficient in managing our spectrum," Matsui said in a statement. "By providing financial incentives for the first time, this bipartisan legislation will serve as a model to encourage the government to reallocate non-critical spectrum for commercial purposes.  It will provide many federal agencies an opportunity that will be hard to refuse, particularly as our nation's budget continues to shrink."

Many federal agencies hold vast swathes of spectrum but have been reluctant to give them up. However, that is starting to change amid pressure from the White House, members of Congress and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is an arm of the Commerce department charged with managing federal agencies' use of spectrum.

For example, the Department of Defense and the broadcasting industry recently struck a deal that will clear the way for the FCC to auction the 1755-1780 MHz band as part of the AWS-3 auction.

"The federal government is the single largest holder of spectrum below 3 GHz,"' Jot Carpenter, vice president of government affairs for CTIA, said in a statement. "And incenting agencies to relinquish bands they aren't utilizing or using efficiently can help the commercial mobile industry gain access to the spectrum it needs to maintain America's place as the world's leader in wireless broadband service."

For more:
- see this CNET article
- see this The Hill article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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