A key member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee attacked spectrum legislation included in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s proposal to raise the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit Wednesday.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said the spectrum language included in the debt ceiling proposal offered by Reid, D-Nev., is “poorly drafted to accelerate revenues.” When asked if he could support the Reid proposal, Walden said, “Heavens, no.” He told reporters it wouldn’t survive a House vote.
The spectrum provisions in Reid’s plan would raise money for deficit reduction by auctioning off frequencies now used by broadcasters and others. Reid had hoped his plan would raise $15 billion from those auctions, but the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that it will only raise $11.5 billion, which may prompt Reid to tweak the plan, a spokesman said.
Reid’s proposal also includes provisions similar to a bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in in June aimed at building a national broadband public safety network and freeing up more spectrum for wireless broadband.
Both the Reid and Senate Commerce measures would reallocate a swath of spectrum known as the D block for a public safety network instead of auctioning it off to commercial bidders as required by current law. Both measures also would generate revenue by authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive auctions aimed at enticing broadcasters and others to give up some of their airwaves in exchange for some of the proceeds.
Walden has been critical of the Senate Commerce legislation, authored by Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., but said Reid’s spectrum language is “worse than the underlying Rockefeller bill.” Walden, a former broadcaster, also was critical of how the Reid plan would affect broadcasters. “It leaves broadcasters completely unprotected,” he said.
The National Association of Broadcasters has similar concerns. The group says Reid’s proposal fails to include several protections it sought as part of any legislation that would authorize incentive auctions.
Walden has crafted a draft spectrum bill that also authorizes incentive auctions but would not give the D block to public safety officials for a national broadband network and instead would auction off that spectrum to commercial bidders.
Walden said it is unclear at this point whether House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will seek to add spectrum legislation to his own debt ceiling proposal. Boehner is revising his plan after the CBO said it would produce even less for deficit reduction than the Reid plan.
Meanwhile, public safety officials renewed their pleas Wednesday for Congress to help them build a national broadband network.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee examined what progress has been made since the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks in ensuring that police, fire and other first responders can talk to each other during emergencies. The attacks exposed deep problems with the nation’s communications systems.
While individual departments and states have made progress, they still lack a national broadband communications network that would ensure communication from coast to coast, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said.
“Right now my son and daughter have more broadband capability [in their smart phones] than my firefighters do responding to emergencies every day,” Michael Varney, a local fire chief and the statewide interoperability coordinator for Connecticut’s Emergency Services and Public Protection Department, told the hearing.
Lieberman said he was pleased to see Reid add the spectrum legislation to his debt ceiling proposal but voiced concern that it would only authorize $7 billion for the buildout of the public safety network, which is more than $4 billion below what it is projected to cost.
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