Rep. Boucher and Rep. Stearns Introduce Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act

July 29, 2010. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) introduced HR 5947 [LOC | WW | PDF], the "Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act of 2010".

This bill would amend 47 U.S.C. § 309(j)(8) to allow for the sharing of spectrum auction proceeds with the licensees who voluntarily relinquish that spectrum. It could provide a financial incentive for television broadcasters and other licensees to relinquish spectrum.

Rep. Boucher stated in a release that this bill "takes the right approach to incentive-based spectrum auctions -- enter into conversations with broadcasters and others about surrendering a portion of their spectrum on a voluntary basis, determine rules for incentive-based auctions that are truly voluntary and conduct the auctions in accordance with the agreement".

The National Association of Broadcasters' (NAB) Dennis Wharton stated in a release that the "NAB salutes Chairman Boucher and Ranking Member Stearns for their vision on an issue of vital importance to tens of millions of Americans who rely on local TV stations for high-quality entertainment, niche programming and lifeline emergency news and information. As NAB has previously articulated, we have no quarrel with incentive auctions that are truly voluntary, and the Boucher/Stearns bill is a clear step in the right direction. We look forward to working with Congress as it lays the foundation for sound spectrum policy that recognizes the enduring value of free and local broadcasting."

Rep. Stearns stated that "We are facing a looming spectrum crisis. It's very clear that the U.S. will need additional spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless broadband.  Wireless providers have used spectrum to provide U.S. consumers with innovative voice and data services. The number of mobile broadband customers has increased exponentially over the past several years. As customers increase the amount of time they spend on their mobile devices talking, emailing, and surfing the Internet, cell sites become constrained for capacity. In order to remain the world’s leader in innovation, we need to make more spectrum available".

This bill would amend Section 309(j)(8) to provide that "If the Commission determines that it is consistent with the public interest in utilization of the spectrum for a licensee to relinquish voluntarily some or all of its licensed spectrum usage rights in order to permit the assignment of new initial licenses or the allocation of spectrum for unlicensed use subject to new service rules, the proceeds from the use of a competitive bidding system under this subsection may be shared, in an amount or percentage determined in the discretion of the Commission, with any licensee who agrees to participate in relinquishing voluntarily such spectrum usage rights."

The FCC has a history of coercing actions by licensees which the FCC then describes as voluntary.

Thus, the bill provides further that this section shall not be used to reclaim spectrum on an involuntary basis, from broadcast television licensees, or from any other licensees.

The bill would also give the FCC authority to write implementing regulations.