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Voluntary TV spectrum auction on tap with approval locked in Congress

Voluntary TV spectrum auction on tap with approval locked in Congress


The House has approved an extension of the payroll tax cut, which includes a rider for approval of the so-called "incentive auction" on television broadcast spectrum.

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The House passed an extension of the payroll tax cut this morning after representatives from both sides of the chamber hammered out a deal earlier this week; a Senate vote is planned for this afternoon, and early indications are that it'll pass. That may not seem like an interesting development for members of the wireless community, but approval of the voluntary auction of spectrum currently reserved for television broadcasts — a contentious issue over the past couple years — is attached to the bill, and virtually every stakeholder in the wireless community (including the FCC) is in favor of the auction. The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents television stations that currently own the licenses, had been a key holdout, but it has dropped opposition in recent months as its concerns have been addressed.

The exact guidelines for the auction are yet to be laid out, but in brief, this means that key segments of spectrum below the existing 700MHz band — currently occupied by television stations — will have the option of relinquishing their licenses. In turn, they'd receive a portion of proceeds as the licenses are taken to market and sold to carriers, who will refarm the spectrum for additional mobile broadband. The FCC has been making noise about the impending "spectrum crunch" for years, and underused (and unused) television licenses had long been seen as a potential refuge — particularly since they occupy high-quality spectrum that can travel long distances without repeaters. That's good news for rural areas, where lower frequencies are cheaper to deploy across low-density expanses. It's also a good deal for broadcasters, most of whom received the original licenses at no charge.

Update: The Senate has now passed the bill as well, so barring a Presidential veto (unlikely), this is set to go.