House lawmakers consider new spectrum auction bill

House Republicans are circulating draft legislation that would authorize the FCC to conduct incentive auctions for broadcast TV spectrum.

The draft, prepared by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on communications and technology, was made public in advance of a congressional hearing Friday on spectrum issues, and would authorize the FCC to conduct a single round of voluntary incentive auctions for TV broadcast spectrum, a long-sought-for goal of both the FCC and the CTIA.

While the auctions are strictly voluntary, the draft legislation does not prohibit the FCC from forcing broadcasters to move from a UHF to a VHF channel. Broadcasters that decide to participate in the auction would have their identities protected until the auctions are concluded and the broadcasters vacate the spectrum. 

In addition to authorizing the incentive auctions, the draft said that an "unspecified amount" of the auction proceeds would go toward "construction" of a public-safety broadband network. While the bill does not explicitly call for the auction of the D Block, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the subcommittee, has said the spectrum should be auctioned.

That stance conflicts with the one put forward by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) in legislation that passed the Senate Commerce Committee in June. That bill, which also authorized voluntary incentive auctions, would reallocate the D Block directly to public safety and provide $12 billion for the buildout of a nationwide LTE network for first responders.

Public-interest group Public Knowledge attacked the House draft because it would remove net neutrality rules on new spectrum auctions and, according to the group, would give too much leeway to broadcasters. 

The House draft is not yet final legislation, and has not been voted on by the full House. Moreover, it would have to be reconciled with the competing Senate legislation, and signed by the president, before becoming law. The CTIA has expressed hope that a spectrum bill will pass Congress and be signed into law this year.   

For more:
- see this draft legislation (PDF)
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this The Hill article
- see this IDG News Service article

Related Articles:
D-Block 700 MHz legislation closer to full Senate vote
FCC, NAB tangle over broadcast spectrum auctions
FCC waits on Congressional authorization for broadcast spectrum auction
FCC proposes rules to reallocate spectrum from TV broadcasters
NTIA report finds 115 MHz of spectrum for wireless
FCC report: New wireless spectrum may be worth $120B