House Lawmakers Offer Legislation To Sell Federal Spectrum Via Incentive Auction

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Dec. 9 --A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced legislation Dec. 9 to encourage federal agencies to voluntarily give up their spectrum holdings for commercial wireless broadband use.

The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act (H.R. 3674) will amend the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Organization Act (47 U.S.C. 901) to permit federal spectrum owners to relinquish or share their spectrum with other agencies in order to let wireless carriers purchase it in a future auction. The legislation targets all federal spectrum holdings and participation is open to all federal agencies.

The bill creates a federal spectrum incentive auction fund that will pay federal agencies a portion of the revenue generated from subsequent auctions of federal spectrum. The money can be used by federal agencies to cover the cost of relocating their systems and to offset sequestration cuts.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning to mark up the legislation Dec. 11, Capitol Hill sources told Bloomberg BNA.

The bill is sponsored by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), and co-sponsored by Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.); Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee; and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the subcommittee.

Dec. 11 Markup

“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,” Matsui said in a news release. “It will provide many federal agencies an opportunity that will be hard to refuse, particularly as our nation's budget continues to shrink.” Guthrie said passage of the bill “would incentivize agencies to be more efficient with this precious resource, allowing them to share in the profits of spectrum bands they relinquish.”

Waxman said the bill “provides new incentives for federal agencies to use their spectrum more efficiently” and “gives agencies the potential to obtain additional revenue to help offset the cuts imposed by sequestration.” Walden said the bipartisan bill is “yet another example of our members working together to promote innovation and create jobs by helping provide additional spectrum to meet consumers demand for more wireless broadband.”

Eshoo said she was pleased to “join my colleagues in introducing bipartisan legislation which provides federal agencies with the financial incentives to give back or share their spectrum.”

Freeing up federal spectrum for commercial wireless broadband use could bring the country closer to meeting President Obama's goal of reallocating 500 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum for commercial mobile broadband use by 2020. The Defense Department recently agreed to relocate many of its systems from the 1755-1780 MHz band in order to provide spectrum to wireless carriers in the Federal Communications Commission's upcoming AWS-3 spectrum auction.

The new legislation seeks to build upon the concept of the broadcast spectrum incentive auctions authorized by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96). That auction is scheduled to take place in 2015 and is expected to generate billions towards the funding of a nationwide interoperable communications network for first responders and to help pay down the federal deficit.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com