President Obama included authorization for incentive wireless spectrum auctions and spectrum reallocation for public safety as part of his American Jobs Act.
On Monday, the White House released a fact-sheet detailing President Obama's jobs bill, which he first talked about last week in his address to Congress. As part of this legislation, he is calling for wireless auctions that would help reduce the deficit and would also provide wireless broadband services for at least 98 percent of Americans. These are goals that his administration has also outlined in the National Broadband Plan.
Specifically, the American Jobs Bill would authorize the auction of unused TV broadcast spectrum. These auctions would not force broadcasters to hand over spectrum for auction, but instead it would offer incentives to broadcasters to participate, such as sharing in the proceeds. The rest of the proceeds would go to the government, helping it lower the debt or closing budget deficits.
The plan also calls for reallocating spectrum that had been set aside for auction as part of the 700MHz spectrum auction for public safety. During that auction a few years ago, the 10MHz sliver known as the D-block did not meet the minimum requirement for bidders and has not been allocated. The legislation proposed by President Obama would give this spectrum to public safety so that agencies could build their own nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband network for first responders. The bill would also authorize spending to build and maintain the network using proceeds from the TV spectrum incentive auctions.
The plan is very similar to legislation previously introduced by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).
"CTIA appreciates the Administration's continued support for spectrum auctions," Steve Largent, president and CEO of the CTIA Wireless Association, said in a statement. "Bringing additional spectrum to auction expeditiously is critical to efforts to address wireless consumers' demand for mobile broadband service, just as it is key to spurring additional investment, innovation, and job creation across the wireless ecosystem."
But both the incentive auctions and parts of the proposal to reallocate the D-block spectrum for public safety have been controversial.
Broadcasters say they have already given enough wireless spectrum for auction. The 700MHz wireless auction a few years ago was an auction of excess TV spectrum that was freed up from the transition from analog TV broadcasting to digital. Recently broadcasters have also complained that wireless and broadband providers that already hold wireless licenses are hoarding spectrum. Broadcasters say that even though the auctions are meant to be voluntary, they fear that some broadcasters will be forced to give up spectrum that they could use to develop other services, such as mobile TV.
As for the reallocation of the D-block spectrum, most politicians and policymakers in Washington D.C. agree that a separate, dedicated wireless network is needed for public safety. But what they disagree on is who should pay for it. Many House Republicans do not want to see money raised through auctions diverted to pay for the public safety network.
Authorization for the incentive auctions had been added to the debt ceiling bill that lawmakers pushed through Congress earlier this summer. But it was removed and did not end up as part of the package that passed last month. Supporters hoped the measure would be taken up again by Congress as part of the bipartisan Super Committee that is supposed to be coming up with ways to trim the national deficit.