Dem's bill gives FCC deadline for spectrum plan

Dem's bill gives FCC deadline for spectrum plan

Draft legislation hailed by the broadcasting industry would give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a five-month deadline for developing a plan to repackage television stations displaced by an upcoming auction of wireless spectrum.

The sale currently scheduled for the end of March would see broadcasters sell their spectrum, the frequencies that carry signals to wireless devices, to the FCC, who would then sell them to wireless providers. That has left some broadcasters concerned about what will happen to their position on the airwaves after the auction.

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A draft bill proposed by Hoiuse Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) requires that the commission develop a plan within five months for how the airwaves will be repackaged. It also establishes a $1 billion fund to help broadcast stations pay for relocating on the airwaves if other money is not available and viewers are at imminent risk of losing access to their television signal.

It also funds consumer education efforts about the impact of the auction.

"As we approach the Broadcast Incentive Auction, it is critical that we make this transition as seamless as possible for consumers without interruptions in their service," Pallone said in a statement. “The Viewer Protection Act will help to ensure that viewers' TVs do not go dark because we never know when another emergency might occur."

A trade group for broadcasters praised the measure.

“Millions of viewers reliant on broadcast television could be seriously harmed if this auction is not handled correctly,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters in a statement. “Ranking Member Pallone is proposing a smart, consumer-friendly approach that addresses urgent ‘repacking’ issues that must be addressed to achieve a successful and truly voluntary incentive auction.”

The auction will take place as lawmakers in the Senate, led by Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), try to find a bipartisan solution to free up more spectrum for private use. Industry groups have said that the increasing use of mobile broadband for activities like streaming video means that wireless carriers will need more spectrum to keep up with demand. It is likely that some of that spectrum will come from the federal government, which maintains a huge cache of the frequencies for a range of uses.