Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee, made a strong push in favor of the auctions during a hearing on Wednesday, a positive sign for wireless and tech companies who are pushing Congress to make more spectrum available for data-hungry tablets and smart phones.
Walden said he supports incentive auctions and said the wireless industry’s track record for innovation is "second-to-none." Still, the former broadcast industry executive also worked to allay the concerns of broadcasters, reiterating that participation must be "voluntary."
"Any incentive auction in which a licensee forfeits spectrum rights must be voluntary. This is not only good spectrum policy, it is good economic policy. Incentive auctions help match willing buyers and willing sellers. If a broadcast station values its spectrum more than a potential wireless broadband provider is willing to pay, the station will not be forced off the air," Walden said.
Though the auction proposal is disquieting to many TV stations who are afraid they will be forced off the air, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) says the acceptable as long as participation is truly voluntary.
The Obama administration and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) both support incentive auctions, as well, point out that auction revenue can be used not just to compensate broadcasters but also to pay down the deficit.
Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) also made a strong push for incentive auctions in her opening statement.
"Voluntary incentive auctions will address our nation’s growing demand for wireless, while providing a financial incentive for broadcasters to give back spectrum," she said.
Despite the breadth of support, incentive auctions still face a critical challenge in making their way into a realistic legislative vehicle.
Several narrow bills have been offered to make them into law. Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee included the policy in a comprehensive spectrum bill that faces fierce opposition in the House due to differences on public safety policy.