Two key lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday introduced legislation aimed at modernizing the nation's management and planning of how it uses the increasingly scarce resource of spectrum.
The growing popularity of wireless broadband services is putting more pressure on regulators to free up more spectrum. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass, chairman of the Commerce Communications Subcommittee, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, say their bill, a revised version of one they offered in the 111th Congress, is aimed at providing for the more efficient use of the nation's spectrum.
"Our nation's competitiveness, economic growth, and national security dictate that we address current policy shortcomings, and enactment of this vital legislation will help avert the looming spectrum crisis that could create a major barrier to national growth and innovation at this critical juncture in our economic recovery," Snowe said in a statement.
The bill would require the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration to conduct an inventory of the spectrum to determine how it is currently being used and who is using it. The lawmakers recently voiced frustration in a letter to the agencies that they had yet to act on the senators' call to begin such an inventory using existing authority.
The Kerry-Snowe bill also would require greater cooperation between the FCC and NTIA on spectrum management issues, establish programs for users to share and reuse spectrum, require a cost-benefit examination of moving certain spectrum users to "more efficient bands," and also mandate that wireless hot spots be made available in all publicly accessible federal buildings.
In addition, the bill also would authorize the FCC to conduct incentive auctions, aimed at persuading broadcasters and other spectrum holders to give up some of their spectrum in exchange for some of the proceeds from the auction of those airwaves.
Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also has included a provision authorizing incentive auctions in a bill he introduced in January that would re-allocate a controversial chunk of spectrum known as the D-block to public safety officials for a national interoperable public safety network. Rockefeller said last month that passing his bill is the committee's top priority.
A Kerry spokeswoman said the Kerry-Snowe bill is seen as a compliment to Rockefeller's measure and that their bill could be included in Rockefeller's legislation.