House bill aims to boost government spectrum sales

Five House lawmakers introduced legislation Monday that would encourage federal agencies to give up their spectrum rights for auction to the private sector.

The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act would give additional funds to agencies that agree to give up their spectrum or share a spectrum band with another agency.  

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, announced that the full Energy and Commerce Committee will consider the bill at a mark-up on Wednesday. 

Wireless carriers are hungry for more spectrum—the frequencies that carry all wireless signals—to meet their customers' skyrocketing demand for streaming video, downloading apps and browsing the Web on mobile devices.

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Many spectrum bands are currently in use by federal agencies, which use the frequencies for military communications, to monitor the weather and for other operations. 

Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) introduced the bill, which is co-sponsored by Walden, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

The bill would create a new fund that would allow agencies to access a portion of the revenue from the auction of their spectrum. The agencies could use the additional funding to offset sequestration cuts, expand existing programs or launch new efforts.

"As the single largest spectrum user in the country, the United States government must be more efficient in managing our spectrum,” Matsui said in a statement.  “By providing financial incentives for the first time, this bipartisan legislation will serve as a model to encourage the government to reallocate non-critical spectrum for commercial purposes."

Guthrie said his work on the Federal Spectrum Working Group, a team of House Energy and Commerce Committee lawmakers who examined the issue, allowed him to "see first-hand the critical demand for additional commercial spectrum, as well as the tremendous amount of spectrum being held by the federal government."