Spectrum Auction Bill Advances In House

A Republican-backed payroll tax and jobs bill with TV spectrum auction language attached won House passage last night. But many hurdles still stand in the way of it becoming law. President Obama has said he would veto the legislation as it now stands. Still, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has championed the reallocation of TV spectrum to wireless broadband, called the House vote a "major achievement."

By a 234-193 vote, the House last night passed a controversial GOP payroll tax and jobs package (H.R.3630) that also includes provisions granting the FCC authority to hold incentive auctions of TV spectrum.

House Republicans inserted the spectrum auction proposal, adopted earlier this month by the House Communications Subcommittee, to the package, claiming that revenue from the auctions would reduce the federal deficit by $16.5 billion over 10 years.

The incentive auction is a key element of the FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband use.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called the House vote a “major acheivement.” The spectrum provisions “would would free up new spectrum for mobile broadband, driving investment, innovation and job creation; generating many billions of dollars of revenue; and helping foster U.S. leadership in mobile broadband.”

But the fate of the GOP bill remains unclear. The measure now heads to the Senate where Democrats have major problems with how the legislations handles certain tax provisions.

And President Obama is threatening to veto the legislation if the measure passes Congress.

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Still, some Hill insiders believe a compromise between the two chambers and parties could still emerge this weekend before Congress adjourns for the holidays.

That also means that the House Republicans must reconcile their differences with House and Senate Democrats over key provisions of the incentive auction language authored by House Communications Subcommitte Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and now a part of H.R. 3630.

The main source of contention is over the allocation of the so-called D-block spectrum and the establishment of a national broadband public safety network. House Democrats are objecting primarily to provisions affecting the governance and funding of the network.

But Democrats don’t like language that would prohibit the FCC from applying its net neutrality rules to any new spectrum holder. 

And they oppose provisions that would prohibit allocating spectrum from incentive auctions for unlicensed use and prevent the FCC from restricting who can buy the spectrum broadcasters give up.

The lawmakers are also at odds over the compensation of broadcasters that would have to change channels in the “repacking” of the TV band. House Democrats say that the $3 billion relocation fund favored by the Republicans is too much. They would slash it to $1 billion as recommended by the Congressional Budget Office.

Some broadcast industry lobbyists believe there is still a significant chance that the spectrum provisions could be dropped from the GOP package if Republicans and Democrats are unable to reach agreement on them.


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