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Posted at 5:41 PM ET, 01/25/2011

Sen. Rockefeller introduces bill on spectrum auctions, public safety network

By Cecilia Kang

Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.) on Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a voluntary auction of broadcast television spectrum for mobile Internet services.

The "incentive auctions," supported by consumer electronics companies and the FCC, would direct some proceeds from a federal auction of those airwaves back to broadcasters. Rockefeller's bill also proposes that public safety emergency responders receive 10 megahertz of airwaves to create a wireless mobile broadband network so that fire, police and medical crews can communicate.

“Radio spectrum is a tremendous resource. It can grow our economy and put new and innovative wireless services in the hands of consumers and businesses," said Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee. "It also can heighten our public safety by fostering communications between first responders when the unthinkable occurs."

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has promoted incentive auctions to deliver more airwaves to commercial carriers, which he believes will keep the country competitive in the future and create more jobs related to technology innovation. Those carriers warn of a crunch on networks overloaded by smart phones, tablets and Internet-connected appliances in the future.

Broadcasters are skeptical of the plan, however, saying they want to make sure they are not forced to give up precious airwaves. Analysts say the agency may also see resistance from broadcasters who aren't interested in selling spectrum as they try to create mobile television services.

"Broadcasters have no quarrel with incentive auctions that are truly voluntary, and the new legislation provides sound direction for that approach," said Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Rockefeller's legislation to give spectrum to public safety groups goes against a plan by the FCC to auction 10 megahertz of airwaves to a commercial carrier that would partner with public safety responders in times of emergency.

Police, fire and other public safety groups have said they need that additional spectrum to meet data demands of the future. The FCC has argued that a commercial carrier will continue to front the building and operating costs of building a national network.

The move is a win for companies such as AT&T and Verizon, according to analysts, who are loath to bring more competition into the market for mobile broadband services. Those firms -- the nation's leading wireless providers -- hailed the public safety spectrum bill.

By Cecilia Kang  | January 25, 2011; 5:41 PM ET
Categories:  FCC, Mobile, Spectrum  
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