Congress Passes Bill That Opens Up TV Spectrum

Tech groups praise a compromise that allows the FCC to set aside spectrum for unlicensed uses

By
Fri, February 17, 2012

IDG News Service (Washington, D.C., Bureau) — The U.S. Congress has passed legislation that will allow the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to set aside a piece of unlicensed spectrum before new mobile spectrum auctions, despite opposition from some lawmakers who wanted all the available spectrum to be auctioned.

The spectrum provisions were attached to a bill, approved Friday by the U.S. House of Representative and Senate, that will extend payroll tax breaks.

Unlicensed spectrum is used for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services, and many technology companies have been eying unlicensed spectrum in current television spectrum for so-called long-distance super Wi-Fi service. The spectrum provisions in the payroll tax bill will allow the FCC to conduct so-called incentive auctions, which would give TV stations that voluntarily give up spectrum part of the proceeds from an auction.

The bill passed Friday also would give a 10MHz block of spectrum -- the so-called D block in the 700Mhz band -- to public safety agencies for use in a nationwide mobile broadband network for police, firefighters and other emergency response agencies. The bill also provides an estimated US$7 billion from the proceeds of incentive auctions to build the nationwide network.

An alterative bill that was introduced by Republican Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, called the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum Act, would have required all new spectrum to be auctioned and would have prohibited the FCC from excluding carriers from bidding on spectrum for competitive reasons.

The provision barring the FCC from excluding bidders survived in the final version of the payroll tax bill that Senate and House negotiators agreed to Thursday.

Walden's bill would have prohibited the FCC from attaching net neutrality provisions to future wireless auctions. That provision was stripped out of the bill passed Friday.

Several tech and consumer groups praised Congress for allowing the FCC to set aside unlicensed spectrum before new auctions.

"Congress' rejection of a requirement that the FCC auction all newly available spectrum, including unlicensed spectrum, underscores the general understanding that unlicensed spectrum is vital to our Internet economy," the Wireless Innovation Alliance, an unlicensed spectrum advocacy group, said in a statement.

CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers, said the spectrum provisions in the bill were "a resounding victory for consumers and the American economy." The payroll tax bill will provide a significant amount of new spectrum for mobile voice and broadband service, the group said.

The spectrum provisions in the bill will be good for consumers and the mobile broadband industry, said Public Knowledge, a digital rights group.

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