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Companion bill on public safety, broadcast auctions hits House

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 8:00am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

Legislation setting the stage for the creation of a national public safety network and for allowing the FCC to sell off television spectrum landed in Congress on Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Michigan Democrat John Dingell and Texas Democrat Gene Green, matches legislation introduced in the Senate last month by West Virginia Democrat John Rockefeller and Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Lawmakers are under pressure to pass the legislation ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The companion bill is an important step to pushing the legislation forward.

The House bill adds protections to broadcasters participating in the voluntary incentive auctions authorized by the legislation by explicitly barring the FCC from forcing broadcasters to give up their licenses, or otherwise penalizing companies who choose not to participate in incentive auctions.

The bill also seeks to withhold the identities of companies who choose to participate in the auctions and contains a provision to reimburse licensees affected by the auctions.

Chris Moore, a spokesman for the Public Safety Alliance, called the bill a "crucial step" toward creating a national mobile broadband network for public safety.

Verizon also praised the bill.

"This draft meets three goals Verizon has long supported: bringing much- needed new spectrum to the mobile market, an open auction for this spectrum, and progress toward a long-sought interoperable, national public safety broadband network," Verizon government relations executive Peter Davidson said. "Achieving these goals will spur investment and innovation in the wireless marketplace and grow the U.S. economy, generate much-needed revenue to help reduce our national debt, and give first responders the 21st century communications tools they need to keep our nation safe."

Not everyone had a positive response, however. Advocacy group Public Knowledge blasted some of the provisions in the bill, saying they unfairly benefit broadcasters, weaken the enforcement of net neutrality laws and could subject unlicensed spectrum to auctions.

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