Sen. Warner Introduces Spectrum Auction Bill

In a bid to secure capacity for the next phase of mobile broadband service, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Friday introduced legislation that would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to shift portions of wireless spectrum from television broadcasters to wireless Internet providers.

Warner's bill would give the FCC a mandate to conduct so-called incentive auctions, inviting TV broadcasters to give up their spectrum allotments in exchange for a portion of the revenue generated from their resale at auction.

"By providing an incentive for license holders to sell their spectrum back to the government, we'll be able to create new efficiencies in spectrum use," Warner said of his bill. "By all indications, we're facing a dramatic spectrum crunch over the next decade, and this legislation is a step toward promoting more innovation and creating more economic opportunities as Americans increasingly rely on mobile technology."

The incentive auction plan, advanced by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and backed by the White House, has elicited a tepid response from the National Association of Broadcasters, the industry trade group that has repeatedly warned against any measure that would coerce its members into giving up their spectrum licenses. At the same time, the NAB has said it does not object to auctions that are "truly voluntary," but cautions that it will oppose any efforts to force TV stations to abandon their spectrum or impose penalties for holding onto their slices of airwaves.

The FCC first floated the idea of incentive auctions last March, making it a centerpiece of the national broadband plan it submitted to Congress. But the agency acknowledged that it would require legislative authorization to carry out the plan.

In the time since, the White House has weighed in, last June dispatching Lawrence Summers, then the director of the National Economic Council, to deliver a speech outlining a plan to free up 500 MHz of spectrum over the next decade, effectively endorsing the FCC's spectrum roadmap.

Then, last month, Obama announced the National Wireless Initiative in his State of the Union address, a campaign to deliver high-speed mobile broadband to 98 percent of the country over the next five years.

For its part, the NAB is advocating legislation to conduct a wholesale inventory of spectrum allocated to commercial and government entities ahead of any new auctions.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


FCC, spectrum, broadcasters, Congress, mobile broadband