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House Energy and Commerce Committee Approves Bill to Incentivize Federal Agencies to Release More Spectrum for Commercial Use

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By Jenny PaulMarc Martin, and Marty Stern 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently
approved the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, a bill that provides a financial incentive for federal agencies to relinquish some of their government spectrum to the FCC, which would reallocate it for commercial use and auction it to the public. The bill’s incentive structure allows federal agencies that agree to relinquish their spectrum to share in a portion of the proceeds from the FCC’s auction of such spectrum.  This approach draws on the similar 600 MHz “incentive auction” model, which gives broadcast television licensees who relinquish their 600 MHz broadcast spectrum the ability to share in the proceeds of its auction for commercial wireless broadband uses.

Essentially, the bill creates a “Federal Spectrum Incentive Fund” that would hold one percent of the proceeds from FCC auctions of reallocated federal spectrum.  A federal government agency that vacates spectrum for commercial use would then be able to draw on its portion of the fund to offset sequestration cuts and would also have the ability to provide a portion of these funds to other agencies whose spectrum it can share.

In a more procedurally oriented initiative, the committee also approved the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act, which would require the FCC to set nonbinding deadlines for completion of proceedings and report to Congress about whether those deadlines are being met.

The full House is expected to vote on both bills early in 2014.