A House Energy and Commerce panel released draft legislation on Wednesday that denies public-safety officials a block of spectrum for the creation of national broadband network.
While the draft legislation from Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., has pleased broadcasters, other groups, especially net-neutrality advocates, are furious about several provisions in the bill. It takes aim at unlicensed spectrum and the new open-Internet rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission in December.
The panel has scheduled a hearing for Friday on the draft and public-safety spectrum issues. Broadcasters, public safety officials and a wireless industry representative will testify.
One of the biggest differences with a bill approved last month by the Senate Commerce Committee -- the House draft would maintain current law by requiring the auction of a stretch of spectrum known as the D-block for commercial use. The Senate bill would reallocate that spectrum for a public-safety national broadband network.
Public-safety officials have been lobbying Congress hard to give the D-block to them, saying they do not have enough capacity to build the national network they need.
The House draft would address this need by giving an unspecified amount of money for a public-safety network and establish a board made up of state, federal, and industry members to oversee its construction. The Senate measure would create a nonprofit corporation to tackle the same responsibilities.
Like the Senate bill, the House measure also would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive auctions, which are aimed at enticing broadcasters and others to give up their spectrum in exchange for a share of the proceeds. But the House draft includes several restrictions on the auctions. Broadcasters have said they do not oppose such auctions as long as they are truly voluntary.
At the request of broadcasters, the House draft would only authorize “a single, voluntary, broadcast incentive auction” and includes other protections for broadcasters. “Under their proposed draft legislation to provide truly voluntary spectrum auctions, the clear intent of Congress would be to protect tens of millions of viewers relying exclusively on broadcast television against loss of service,” National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith said in a statement.
The draft also would require the auction of unused spectrum in between broadcast channels known as white space. Several tech companies and public interest groups cheered the FCC last fall when it took the final step in authorizing the use of such white spaces for a variety of technologies and applications including ultra-fast wi-fi.
“Given that unlicensed uses like wi-fi come from small and new companies, the future of new uses would be very bleak" under the House draft, Harold Feld with Public Knowledge said in a statement.
Feld also attacked language in the draft that he said would effectively nullify the open Internet rules the FCC applied to wireless carriers. The FCC only applied some of the rules barring broadband providers from blocking access to legal applications, services, and content to wireless providers.
"Wireless companies would be relieved of even the most minimal existing Net Neutrality requirements if they purchase spectrum under these auctions," Feld said.